The new Public Records and Meetings Manual imposes presumptive deadlines and gives the Attorney General greater latitude to review excessive fees
Attorney General John Kroger today announced that the new Public Records and Meetings Manual is now available in hard copy. The cost is $25. A free version of the manual is available online.
To order a copy, fill out this form on the Department of Justice Web site.
The free online version of the manual can be found here.
Changes to the manual reflect new legislation, recent court decisions and a fresh look at previous interpretations of the law. Key changes include:
- The manual revisits a longstanding legal interpretation that allowed public bodies to take as much time responding to public records requests as they could justify under the nebulous standard of “reasonableness.” Focusing on the language of the law, the new manual clarifies that it is the public’s right of inspection that must be reasonable. Thus, public bodies must make records available as quickly as they reasonably can. The manual suggests that 10 working days should usually be a sufficient amount of time to respond to typical records requests, while recognizing that more time may be required under some circumstances.
- The Attorney General can examine state agency fees if it appears that the true purpose of the fees is to effectively deny the request rather than recoup costs as the law allows. The manual previously opined that the Attorney General had no authority to review state agency fees.
- When deciding whether a fee waiver or fee reduction is appropriate, the public interest in disclosing a document must be considered. Previously, the manual invited public bodies to consider how much it would burden them to waive or reduce their fees, without requiring them to put the public’s interest in disclosure on the other side of the scales.
- The general discussion of exemptions has been revised to more closely follow the way in which public bodies typically consider requests. The goal is to encourage pro-transparency decisions.
- The section describing the process for appealing a public body’s decision has been completely reorganized. It is now more accurate and, hopefully, easier to follow.
- In addition to these revisions, there are numerous changes to improve clarity, precision, consistency and accuracy; to avoid redundancy; and to make the manual more current.
Tony Green, (503) 378-6002 firstname.lastname@example.org