Public records bill clears Senate committee

A bill designed to set a deadline for the release of public documents won approval from a Senate committee on Thursday.

January 25, 20193 min read

(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A bill that would require state agencies to release public documents within a specific period of time cleared a Senate committee on Thursday after the original version of the bill was almost entirely replaced.

SF 57 won unanimous approval from the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee for debate in front of the full Senate.As approved by the committee, the bill would require government agencies to release public documents within 30 days of their request. Currently, there is no deadline for the release of documents.

The bill would also create the position of “transparency ombudsman” in the governor’s office to mediate any conflicts between people asking for documents and government agencies.

Committee members had spent most of the interim developing a measure which would have required the release of documents within 10 days of a request and levied criminal penalties against government employees who failed to comply with the law.

However, the bill was changed in the face of testimony from a number of state and local government officials that they would be unable to meet the 10-day deadline if they received requests for large numbers of documents. State agency officials said they sometimes receive requests for many thousands of documents.

The new version of the bill also contains no criminal penalties.

Committee members agreed the issue of public documents would have to be looked at going forward, but most also agreed that the changes proposed in the bill would be a good first step.

“There are a lot of things this bill doesn’t do,” said committee Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper. “Somehow, we’re going to have to get our arms around these massive requests.”

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, argued more work might be needed to craft an acceptable law.

“Allow this topic to be worked through the interim,” she said. “I believe we can do better to satisfy all the needs in the room.”

But Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, said he thought the change was needed immediately.“It’s not perfect, but it’s a great improvement,” he said.

The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions approved SF 57 for debate by the full Senate on a unanimous vote. The bill would require public agencies to release public documents no later than 30 days after they are requested. It would also create a “transparency ombudsman” to mitigate conflicts in document issues.

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