Oregon lawmakers took up three measures in the 2019 session designed to improve the way the state’s public records laws work. Two passed, but one that arguably was one of the most important remained in committee at session’s end. House Bill 2431 would have collected information that would have given future Legislatures and the public a better understanding of how the state’s freedom of information laws work.
They don’t have that now. State agencies are not required to keep track of records requests, though surely most already do so, at least rudimentarily. They may have some idea of how many requests they receive and how often they’re asked to waive fees. They must also have some idea about how quickly those requests are handled. HB 2431 would have required agencies to report the actual information annually.
It’s all valuable, both for lawmakers and for the state’s public records advocate, Ginger McCall, and Public Records Advisory Council, which is charged with working to improve public records transparency. It’s also valuable to the public.
Lawmakers did approve HB 2430, which gave the council more permanent life. They also approved HB 2353, which establishes fines for agency foot-dragging and requires agencies to pay reasonable attorney fees to those whose records requests are ignored or delayed.
No one testified against HB 2431, the judiciary committee voted for it unanimously and recommended approval by the House. It was assigned to the ways and means committee, where it languished, in part, no doubt, because the Department of Human Services had said it would cost roughly $180,000 to comply with the law in its first two years.
When DHS later decided compliance would cost nothing, it failed to let McCall, a leading proponent of the measure, know. In fact, as The Oregonian reported in mid-June, it has a history of both dragging its feet and releasing as little information as possible. The Bulletin had a very similar experience with getting DHS to release details about accomplishing its goals
Had it passed, HB 2431 could have made the track record of DHS and other state agencies clear for all to see. It should be resubmitted in 2020.