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Records bill gets plenty of questions

A bill from the Attorney General’s Office, AB42, seeks to bring some clarity and organization to the Nevada public-records act, but instead it seemed to create confusion and raise doubts among Assembly Government Affairs committee members.

I testified in support, but with my own reservations. The bill came out of an attorney general’s working group, of which I’m a member, and had two main purposes — organize exemptions to the public-records law, and create an appeals process for denials of records requests. It was never intended to broaden or narrow the records statute.

Unfortunately, the language as drafted caused a lot of people to think new exemptions were being created, or old exemptions being eliminated. And the appeals process — something I’ve been pushing for years — was dead on arrival.

There may yet be an attempt to amend the language to organize the exemptions. We’ll see.

The idea was to fit them under broad categories — privacy, security, proprietary business information, as examples — similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act. As it stands now, NRS239 contains a massive list of citations to sections of the law that allow exceptions to public records. Are they consistent? Are they still necessary? Why were the approved in the first place?

But several people interpreted those categories as broadly granting exceptions to anything that would fit under them, whether in statute or not. That would be a disaster.

The other goal — for an ombudsman, or appeals body, or some step short of going to court when a records request is denied — fell apart when the body identified in the bill wanted nothing to do with it. That committee, which deals mainly with records retention and management, and not so much with public access questions, was perhaps the wrong place to start. But I made the point that the state ends up spending lots of money dealing with records disputes (including four cases that have gone to the state Supreme Court in recent years) that could be better spent on an ombudsman’s office.

Another bill on records is coming down the pike — SB170 — that will address some different issues.

 

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