The Oregon Senate’s Committee on General Government and Emergency Preparedness gets down to business in Senate Bill 1506 on Monday when it holds a public hearing on the bill at 8 a.m. in Hearing Room B of the Capitol.
It may also consider the only amendment proposed to date, one being advanced by the League of Oregon Cities that would effectively gut the bill it amends. If it does, it should give the amendment short shrift.
SB 1506 would take major steps toward fixing flaws in the legislation that created the state’s first Public Records Advocate and Public Records Advisory Council. Those flaws became apparent in 2019 when the then advocate, Ginger McCall, was pushed hard by members of Governor Kate Brown’s staff who asked her to represent the governor’s interests before the council, but not tell that group she was doing so.
If the bill is approved — and we believe it should be — the advocate would become independent of the governor’s office, appointed by the advisory council. Too, the council would have the freedom to support or oppose measures related to Oregon’s public records law and to ask lawmakers to introduce bills on its behalf.
The League’s move, meanwhile, comes as no surprise. Its representative on the council has been clear he opposes the proposed changes and would prefer the current law remain unchanged.
That view ignores the very real problems this measure would fix. The advocate would be answerable to the Public Records Council, which would have the power to fire an advocate for cause. Unless the law is changed, that power will remain with the governor, and a governor could well decide an advocate’s interests were counter to his or her own. The right to propose and support or object to legislation is also important, and the council cannot do that now.
SB 1506 gives the advocate and the council the freedom to do what they’re supposed to do to make Oregon’s public records law work for government and citizens alike. The League of Oregon Cities’ attempt to water it down should be ignored.