Public records belong to the public, but obtaining them in Oregon can be a challenge. If you request public records in Oregon, for instance, the agency that maintains them may well charge for them. A lot.

Likewise, the state’s workplace and civil rights laws and rules can be more difficult to obtain than they should be. Those documents of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries can be very difficult to search online, especially with a phone.

Val Hoyle, Oregon’s labor commissioner, is out to change both of those things for BOLI.

She has asked the Legislature for money to hire a public records coordinator. If the Legislature supports that position, Oregonians would not have to pay for routine public records requests from BOLI. Hoyle told us she may still have to charge for some large and difficult requests — such as if someone asked for all records for every workplace complaint ever filed at the state concerning Intel.

The BOLI public records coordinator would cost of the state about $215,000 for the next two years. Hoyle said the benefit would not only be that routine requests would be processed for free. But her staff that is tasked with enforcement, investigation or training people about workplace and discrimination law would no longer have to spend as much time on records requests. BOLI gets about 1,000 records requests a year.

Hoyle also asked the Legislature for money to update BOLI’s website. She wants Oregon’s wage and hour and civil rights laws to be easily searchable on your phone. Try doing that now. Well, actually, don’t. You won’t be happy. Hiring someone to do a major update of BOLI’s online presence would cost about $250,000, her office estimates.

There’s no end to the difficult choices the Legislature must make with the state’s money. These relatively small expenditures need to weighed against many other state priorities. But Hoyle’s commitment to ensuring public records and laws are easily accessible should be the way Oregon operates.

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