Government agencies could be fined up to $200 if they ignore or improperly delay the release of legally-requested public records under a bill signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday.
House Bill 2353 allows a district attorney, the Attorney General or a judge to order a fine or request a fee waiver if they find the agency unduly delayed its response or failed to respond.
The bill passed both the House (56-0) and the Senate (26-0) unanimously.
In 2017, the Oregon State Legislature passed four bills addressing public records law. Senate Bill 481 set timeframes requiring public bodies to respond to and fulfill public records requests — a change public records advocates have long wanted. Under the bill, agencies must respond to a request within five business days. After the agency responds, it has an additional 10 days to fulfill the request.
“In spite of changes made last year, journalists across Oregon continue to see requests for basic information ignored or unreasonably delayed,” said Rachel Alexander, vice-president of the Oregon Territory Society of Professional Journalists board. “This law is a step toward more open government for all Oregonians.”
Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) brought bipartisan sponsorship to the bill, whose chief sponsors were all Democrats. Hayden said he has experienced difficulty obtaining public records from government agencies in his work at the legislature.
“Sometimes they just ignore you and stonewall you, and if they don’t want you to have the information, they don’t give it to you or they make it very, very difficult,” Hayden said.
He added he hopes the bill will encourage more transparency in government and allow people to obtain information they’re entitled to.
The bill follows existing public records law procedures, allowing people to appeal an agency’s denial of their request to the district attorney or the Attorney General, and permitting lawsuits if either judicial body denies the appeal.
“We’re not changing the process, we’re just putting some teeth in the process,” Hayden said.
Opponents of the bill, primarily local government employees, said they receive hundreds of public records requests each month and often lack adequate resources to respond to or fulfill requests within the legal time frames.