Monday, February 16, 2009
The Mississippi Senate shelved a bill designed to make public records more accessible to the public, according to The Greenwood Commonwealth,
The bill would have done two things. It would have prevented public officials from inflating the costs of producing requested records -- a favorite trick used before by the Haley Barbour administration. It also would have shortened the maximum response time from 14 working days to seven.
Those reforms, reasonable as they were, nevertheless were shot down by Senate Republicans. Lydia Chassaniol of Winona and every one of her 23 GOP colleagues voted in lockstep to shelve the bill. They were joined by two Democrats.
Makes you wonder what the state senators have to hide.
- golden eagle
Heckuva job, fellas. I'm sort of amazed they ever passed a public records law in the first place, but the existing law has some huge loopholes. For one, government bodies are more or less free to charge outrageous rates for access, so that getting a 50-page report might cost $100 in duplication and "staff time" costs. Second, 14 working days sounds reasonable, but often, the government violates the spirit of the law by treating 14 days as a goal rather than an outer limit. If all somebody has to do is e-mail you a file or make a photocopy, it shouldn't take 14 days. Of course, the Melton Administration often took 147 days to respond to even the simplest requests, at least in the early days. And SORE has to get her mits on every single request, which adds further delay for no benefit to the public. A further reform that is needed is to stiffen penalties for willfully violating the law. As it stands now, a government body can deliberately withhold information from the public for years, and the maximum penalty is $100. Of course, legal fees can make the "penalty" of fighting public records requests higher, but people shouldn't have to drag the government before a judge to get basic information. In general, many people in government seem to take a corporate attitude toward information, as if the government has some proprietary stake in secrecy. That's not only legally incorrect, it's morally offensive. Shame on the Senate. Shame!
- Brian C Johnson