Many bills failed in the 2020 legislative session because Republican legislators walked out and Democrats decided that the cap-and-trade bill needed to move before other bills did.
Ask what bills should have passed, and you will get different answers. For instance, we have highlighted how Oregon State University-Cascades failed to receive money for a student success center. Deschutes County failed to get money for badly needed additional judges. And there are many more.
It’s perhaps no surprise that a bill that would better ensure the public has access to information from the government also failed. Sure, there are laws on the books regarding public records and open meetings. But time and time again those laws are interpreted in a way to rig the rules against the public.
The Legislature has made improvements. There are now timelines in place for how long a government entity is supposed to take before responding to a records request. But if the record that a member of the public is after is something that would make somebody or a program look bad, what do you think happens? Delays and high attorney fees for reviewing the records before release effectively build a wall around the records so the public can’t get access.
The creation of the public records advocate position in Oregon was a very positive step. That office can mediate records disputes and provide free training to the public and government on how the law works.
But then Ginger McCall, the public records advocate, resigned. She said she was pressured by the members of the governor’s office to secretly represent the governor’s political interests on the state’s Public Records Advisory Council, “even to the point of undermining the Council’s proposals,” she wrote.
Senate Bill 1506 would have made it clear that the public records advocate was an independent office. It clarified that the advisory council could support or oppose legislation about the public records law, introduce public records legislation and recruit and appoint the public records advocate.
Those are important changes. They need to be made. The bill did not deserve to die. Bring it back next session.