Covid-19’s Continues to Impact Public Record Access

One year into the novel coronavirus pandemic, government agencies continue to discuss how to best manage incoming record requests while adhering to state and local covid-19 and public record protocols.

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Featured

Governments delay access to public records during pandemic

As states prepared to reopen their economies following coronavirus shutdowns last spring, The Associated Press asked governors across the U.S. for records that could shed light on how businesses and health officials influenced their decisions.

Nine months later, after several more COVID-19 surges and shutdowns, the AP still has not received records from about 20 states. Some outright denied the requests or sought payments the AP declined to make. Others have not responded, or said they still need more time.

New data indicates there has been both a higher demand for government information during the pandemic and longer waits to obtain it.

State, county and city governments experienced a sixfold increase in their time spent on public records requests last year, rising from an average of 346 hours in the first quarter to 2,121 hours by the last quarter, according to GovQA’s analysis in the PiPRIndex.

Read More | Associated Press

Legislation

Nevada Legislation seeks to curb public’s access to governmental records

The 2021 Nevada Legislature is pushing for bills that would curtail the public’s access to governmental records and workings across the state.

AB39, which has not had a hearing yet, comes from the [Nevada] Department of Public Safety and would significantly expand the types of documents considered private under the state’s public records law.

Specifically, it would make confidential any records from a government body that was considered part of the “internal pre-decisional deliberations,” including research, memos or other documents and any notes or working papers prepared by government workers for their personal use, including text and email messages.

Read More | Review Journal

Tennessee Lawmakers to hear proposed exception to the Open Meetings Act, public records bills

[Tennessee Rep. Dave] Wright’s bill would create an exception to a section in the Open Meetings Act, which governs electronic participation in meetings. It would allow county commissioners to call into a meeting, but exempts the commission from following other rules that are otherwise required in the section.

The bill also does not restrict commissioners from receiving per diem payments for attending a meeting electronically, address audibility or include other safeguards that would allow the public to follow the meeting along easily.

The bill does limit a commissioner to attending electronically to only twice a year, but it’s not clear if the limit would include participation at committee meetings.

Read MoreMain Street Nashville

Bill to strengthen Alabama’s open records law carried over

A bill that would strengthen Alabama’s open records law was carried over by members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, [Mar. 10] at the request of its sponsor.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said his Senate Bill 165 would set a response time that agencies would have to respond to records requests. State law doesn’t currently set such a time limit.

Orr said the bill also sets reasonable costs to provide requested documents. It would also establish a public access counselor within the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts tasked with deciding on whether to extend time limits for requests and administering an appellate process to handle appeals, when records are denied.

Read More | Alabama Political Reporter

Coalition says Maryland Police reform bill is weak on accountability

The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 (HB 670), sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) includes several reforms, such as repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), raising the standards for use of force, establishing police accountability boards, and more.

The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability said Jones’ bill addresses some of their key demands, including elevating the standards for the use of force and reforming the Maryland Public Information Act to improve the transparency of investigations into police misconduct.

But the coalition said the bill “misses the mark” on streamlining the system to discipline officers, and they said the bill’s provisions for community participation fall short of the “real external community oversight” the state needs.

Read More | The Baltimore Fish Bowl

Peer Feature

President Preckwinkle Launches New System to Streamline Public Records Requests in Cook County

On March 11, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the launch of a new system for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The new FOIA system uses GovQA software to allow requestors to track their public records requests online. The new system helps standardize records processing and streamlines request tracking for both requestors and Cook County employees.

“A cornerstone of my administration, from day one, has been to provide transparency for the public,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “This new software will replace spreadsheets and email inboxes with a modern request tracking system that lets us operate more efficiently and increases transparency into our operations.”

Read More | GovQA

The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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