A bill in the state Senate that would have toughened requirements for public records requests has been dropped after the legislation received more scrutiny than expected.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, submitted Senate Bill 609 in January on behalf of recently retired state Rep. Deborah Boone, who called the legislation necessary to weed out fishing expeditions by journalists and others that take time and resources from state legislators.
Johnson, who has deferred questions about the bill to Boone, said there was a lot of confusion surrounding the legislation and people jumping to their own conclusions before Boone asked that it be withdrawn.
Boone’s bill would have required records requesters to state in writing “with particularity” a description of the records and how they will be used. She had yet to hammer out how much particularity requesters would need.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this big a deal, for one thing,” Boone said.
Johnson, already busy, was receiving significant input on the bill, both good and bad, Boone said. “Mostly the press didn’t like it,” she said.
The bill drew criticism from the news media, especially over an initial claim by Boone that journalists don’t pay for records, a view she later admitted was incorrect. The legislation was first reported on by The Oregonian’s Gordon Friedman, who balked at the requirement of stating with particularity the records he seeks when he might not know whether they exist.
Boone claimed the bill was not meant to curb transparency, but to get records requestors to state their purpose in general terms to more efficiently direct the process. The bill was also meant to avoid people having to turn over private information unrelated to a records request, she said.
“I will fight to the death for people’s privacy,” Boone said.
A report last year by the state’s public records advocate found that governments often unreasonably delay releasing public records or charge too much for access. The public records law has also been criticized for the more than 500 exemptions carved out over the years.
Boone’s legislation was one of 11 new public records bills this legislative session. Others would reduce public records fees from state agencies by half, award attorney fees against public bodies that don’t respond to requests in a timely manner, explore creating a chief privacy officer position and prohibit using personal email for official business.