Earlier this year House Bill 312 was passed, requiring the office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron to develop a standardized form for open record requests across the state.
Last week Cameron’s office filed an emergency regulation, which would take effect immediately upon passage, to establish the state’s new “Standardized Open Records Request Form.” This new regulation will provide agencies and members of the public with a form to make those requests. The emergency regulation creating the form will then stay in effect until an ordinary form regulation is adopted.
While the form established by these rules may be used to request any information an individual or organization would like access to, it is not necessary to submit a request for information and organizations or members of the public may still make other written requests for the records, documents, or information they wish to access.
Public agencies, however, must accept any request made using the newform.
As a newspaper, we are strong proponents of government transparency and the availability of public records. We couldn’t do our jobs without access to local government meetings and the documentation related to those meetings, such as meeting minutes, ordinances, budgets, and other agreements that the public has a right to be aware of.
With our local government offices this rarely been a problem.
Most of our county and municipal employees and elected officials have been more than happy to provide information, documentation, and access when needed to bring a story to the community. We’ve been able to get any of the information we’ve needed for our stories by simply going into an office and making a request.
No formal written request or standardized forms have been necessary, and we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
But according to some historical newspaper articles, that hasn’t always been the case across the state. In addition, the further you get from the local level, the harder it can be to navigate the bureaucracy of various state and regional offices and agencies.
While the informal request process of phone calls, texts and emails have served us well, we understand why the state might require written requests. It’s as much for their protection, and proving they are meeting requests, as it is for those requesting the information. As long as these new forms don’t complicate or hinder that request process, we will have no reason to oppose them.
Right now we’re cautiously optimistic that these changes won’t mean a loss of access to documentation, records, and minutes. But we can’t take that for granted. As both the emergency and the ordinary regulation move through their public comment periods and hearings – towards the end of August and September, respectively – we will continue to follow their progress and any impact they may have on your access to your government.
A free and informed society demands nothing less.