Oregon House Bill 2353 would put teeth in the Legislature’s 2017 law that set deadlines for fulfilling public records requests of government agencies in the state.
The measure would allow district attorneys, the attorney general’s office and the courts to levy a $200 fine if deadlines were not met. In addition, they could lower or eliminate fees the agencies planned to charge for records. The penalties are badly needed, and the bill should be approved.
The League of Oregon Cities is probably the most vocal opponent, arguing that firm deadlines would be used by “unscrupulous” requesters of such records as a way to make money. Too, the league argues, giving district attorneys the power to levy fines when records requests are delayed or reduce charges for fulfilling those requests would change the relationship between DAs and city officials.
Those who work for the government in this state too often find public records requests annoying, at best. They drag their feet in filling requests, despite the 2017 legislation that says they must respond to all requests within five business days and fulfill or deny them within another 10 business days.
The state’s public records law does not impose a legitimacy test on requesters. Public records are just that, available to all the public, no matter who they are or what their motive is. Too, it’s unlikely, to put it mildly, that those unscrupulous requesters are in the requesting business for the money.
As for the idea that HB 2353 would somehow harm cities’ relationships with the state’s 36 district attorneys, that’s hard to swallow. DAs are in the business of making tough calls every day. They can handle it. And this bill does not give the power to fine a city or reduce the fees it hopes to charge to DAs alone. It also allows the courts and the attorney general’s office to take on those tasks.
Cities should drop their opposition to this bill, which, finally, puts a price on the foot-dragging with which public records requests are too often met.