Oregon Public Records Laws Strengthened

Overview

Oregon’s public records laws, enacted in 1978, were intended to allow members of the public and the press access to the inner workings of their government. The goal was increased transparency and accountability as the public had a right to information relating to government operations. Over the years, hundreds of public record exemptions have been added and the process has become convoluted, with agencies sometimes charging exorbitant fees for records, and individuals abusing the process by swamping agencies with requests.

Challenge

The Oregon Association of Broadcasters (OAB) and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), longtime CFM clients, have a vested interest in ensuring adequate government transparency. They, and other stakeholders were frustrated with the way the public records process sometimes functioned. Entities seeking an open and transparent process often felt stonewalled by agency responses and timelines, which could make it difficult to report the news accurately and in a timely manner.

Approach

The OAB’s Keith Shipman participated in a task force convened by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum aimed at reforming the public records process. Out of that effort came three pieces of legislation: SB 106, which created a public records advocate to mediate disputes; SB 481, which established timelines for both requestors and responders to follow; and HB 2101, which created a legislative subcommittee tasking with examining both existing and new public records exemptions.

CFM took it from there, helping to shepherd the bills through the legislative process. We educated legislators, addressed stakeholder concerns and helped draft amendments to the three bills that ensured true, meaningful reform to the public records process.

Result

In a difficult budget and political environment, CFM was able to convince legislators that this was a worthwhile investment, and all three bills (at a total price tag of greater than $1 million), passed the legislature before Sine Die.