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Public records bill advances out of committee

The bill will move to the Senate floor where its sponsor will look to have more success than last year.

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On Tuesday, a bill that would provide new rules and guidance to Alabama’s public record process was given a favorable report by the Senate County and Municipal Government Committee. 

The bill, SB270, is sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and marks the second consecutive year he has introduced legislation regarding public records. Currently, under Alabama law, public agencies are not required to respond or acknowledge requests for records. 

Orr’s legislation establishes time parameters for state entities to respond and acknowledge public records requests. As provided state agencies will have to acknowledge requests within 10 business days of receiving a record request. Then, the agency will have 15 business days to provide a substantive response to the requester either denying or approving the request.

Requests can also be denied in part according to the bill and an agency can extend the response timeline another 15 business days after notifying the requester. 

Journalists have frequently complained about the lack of transparency, non-communication or long wait periods when seeking public records from state agencies. 

“Basically what we’re trying to do in this bill is set some timelines for responses by the appropriate governing bodies,” Orr said. 

Orr also delineated that “frivolous” requests or requests that are too broad or unreasonable can be ignored. A requester can sue if the public agency does not provide a substantive response within the initial 30 days after the request was acknowledged or if the records are not provided within 30 business days or 60 calendar days after fees were paid.

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“It’s important for our state, and we need to improve our open records laws because that’s a fundamental piece of our American form of government — is letting the citizens have access to government records,” Orr said, according to the Alabama Reflector. 

The bill will move to the Senate floor where Orr will look to have more success than last year after the bill died in the legislature.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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