by: Rob Bovett | AOC Legal Counsel
September 2, 2016 (updated Friday, September 9, 2016)
The basic structure of Oregon’s public records law has not changed since the early 1970s. However, the nature of public records, and how they are generated and stored, has changed dramatically since then. Decades of efforts to significantly reform or modernize the public records law have all met with failure, largely due to lack of consensus among the key stakeholders.
A couple years ago, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum decided to give it another try, and formed the Attorney General’s Public Records Law Reform Task Force. I serve on that Task Force as the representative from the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC). The Attorney General made it clear that she wanted to tackle the three big issues, namely timelines, fees, and exemptions. However, she also made it clear that she wanted to find consensus among the stakeholders, so that legislation wouldn’t just die again.
The Task Force has extensively discussed and debated the issues at its meetings, and also conducted a series of meetings around the state to solicit public input. Recently, the Attorney General has prepared draft legislation to address timing issues that she hopes will become a consensus bill from the Task Force in 2017.
Governor Kate Brown is also taking an active part in a separate piece of the public records law reform puzzle, namely the possibility of having a public records ombudsman, similar to what is being done successfully in a number of other states. Task Force members are generally in support of that concept. But, as with the three big issues being tackled by the Task Force, the devil will be in the details.
The media, as a key stakeholder, has representatives on the Task Force. But media coverage of the work of the Task Force has been a bit interesting, to say the least. For example, on August 5, The Oregonian covered the Attorney General’s proposed legislation, but failed to explain that the proposal was just a draft of one of three parts. Instead, on August 13, the Editorial Board of The Oregonian blasted the proposal as inadequate.
Yet another interesting development occurred when two journalism students from the University of Oregon decided to test Oregon’s public records law by submitting a public records request to each Task Force member for all public records relating to the Task Force. The results were reported in an article published by the Portland Trib