There are three primary bills still in play with regard to the first significant reform of Oregon’s public records law since it was first enacted in the early 1970s:
1. The Timing Bill
Senate Bill 481 is from the Attorney General, and would impose timelines on responding to a public records request, among other things. Through negotiations, AOC Legal Counsel and others were able to make many improvements to the bill, both before it was introduced, and after. The bill, as amended, unanimously moved out of Committee on April 5 with a “do pass” recommendation. It passed the full Senate on April 18 and is now heading to the House.
2. The Advocate and Advisory Council Bill
Senate Bill 106 is from the Governor, and would establish a public records advocate to perform mediation and training functions, as well as establish a public records advisory committee. Through negotiations, AOC Legal Counsel and others were able to make many improvements to the bill, which has a work session scheduled for April 10. The bill moved out of committee, after being amended, and was sent to the Joint Ways & Means Committee, due to a substantial fiscal impact statement ($700,000) that would require funding by the Legislature.
3. The Exemptions Review Bill
House Bill 2101 is a bill from Representative John Huffman designed to address the multitude of existing and future exemptions from the public records law. AOC Legal Counsel is working with Representative Huffman and other key stakeholders on the bill, which is still very much a work in progress, but is also likely to move. What is under serious consideration at present are the following amendments:
Dash-12: A gut-and-stuff that will form the new core of the bill, which provides for review of new proposed exemptions, and periodic review of legacy exemptions, by a subcommittee of the Legislative Counsel Committee.
Dash-3: Clarifying that a voluntary release in a specific case is not precedent setting as against the releasing public body.
Dash-6: Carving out the six balancing test exemptions from the non-balancing test ORS section and putting them into their own new section (good housekeeping).
Dash-7: Changing the method of notice of contest of a District Attorney or Attorney General public records order from certified mail to actual notice (good housekeeping).
Dash-8: Fixing current law, which awards a requester attorney fees in a case where a public entity challenges a public records order of a District Attorney or Attorney General even when the public entity wins, if the public entity had failed to meet the 7-day timeline to file the appeal.
Dash-10: Clarifying that a public entity can still waive a public records fee even for a dedicated fund public record, if it so chooses.
Dash-11: Requiring the Governor to report the scope and extent of public records fee waivers by state agencies.
Contributed by: Rob Bovett | AOC legal counsel