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ACLU Calls For More Transparency in State Open Records Policies

Posted: March 30, 2011|Category: Open Government

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Testifying at a public hearing yesterday, the Rhode Island ACLU criticized proposed state regulations that would govern access to public records at the five major agencies encompassed by the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, calling the proposed rules “minimalist” and dismissive of the public's right to know.  According to the newly proposed regulation, state employees “will make every reasonable effort to honor” requests for public documents but fulfilling such requests “shall not in any way interfere with the ordinary course of business.”

Joined by five other open government advocates, the ACLU said that this proposal suggests that making open records available to the public should not be “the ordinary course of business” for state agencies.  The ACLU asserts that responding to requests for public documents made available to citizens under the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) should not be treated as if it is a nuisance; instead, complying with APRA means “agencies have a legal obligation to provide records to the public upon request.”  Therefore it is not up to agencies to “make every reasonable effort” to do so— by law, they must comply.

ACLU cooperating attorney Carolyn Mannis said yesterday: “The provisions of APRA are not some mere inconvenience or annoyance imposed on state agencies; they are an integral part of an agency’s duty to do its work with transparency and openness.”

The ACLU also recommended changes to the proposed regulation’s requirement that the public pay for requested documents in advance could “inappropriately delay access to public documents.”  Requiring payment before the search and retrieval of public records would also create unnecessary delays, especially in most cases where the cost is minimal.  Finally, the ACLU urged that the regulations include a requirement that state employees handling APRA requested be trained on their responsibilities under APRA. 

The ACLU will continue to closely monitor this issue and awaits the agency’s response to the testimony offered at yesterday’s public hearing.   

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