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Legislature passes bill to improve public records law

Senate Bill 270, carried by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, introduces much-needed timelines into the law.

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In a bid to address a long-standing deficiency in Alabama’s public records law, the Legislature passed a crucial bill on Tuesday, marking a significant step forward. Spearheaded in the House by Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, the bill aims to rectify a glaring omission in the existing legislation, which has left citizens grappling with uncertainties regarding access to public records.

While Alabama’s current law asserts citizens’ right to inspect and procure copies of public records, it remains conspicuously silent on the timeframe within which state agencies must respond to such requests. Critics have repeatedly pointed out this deficiency, contributing to Alabama’s consistent ranking as one of the states with the weakest public records acts nationwide.

The latest legislative maneuver, Senate Bill 270, carried by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, introduces much-needed timelines into the law. With the bill now heading to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for final approval, it stands poised to bring about tangible improvements in the state’s public records landscape.

The bill introduces a clear delineation of public record requests into two categories, each carrying distinct response timelines for agencies. Standard requests, defined as those requiring less than eight hours of agency staff time, necessitate a substantive response within 15 days of acknowledgment. This response entails furnishing the requested records, scheduling their provision, agreeing on payment terms, or explaining reasons for denial.

Moreover, agencies have the provision to extend response times in 15-day increments, provided they duly notify the requester. Failure to fulfill a standard request within 30 business days or 60 calendar days post-acknowledgment will be construed as a denial, as per the bill’s stipulations.

For more time-intensive requests, agencies are mandated to furnish a substantive response within 45 business days, extendable in 45-day intervals. Should a time-intensive request remain unanswered for 180 business days or 270 calendar days, it will be deemed denied, according to the bill’s provisions.

However, the bill also safeguards agencies against responding to vague, ambiguous, overly broad, or unreasonable requests, as well as those seeking non-public or non-existent records.

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With the passage of this bill, Alabama’s public records law takes a crucial stride towards greater transparency and accountability. Its implementation, pending Governor Ivey’s approval, heralds a positive shift in ensuring citizens’ access to vital information while balancing the operational needs of state agencies.

 

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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