Oregon Extends Public Access to Governmental Records

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski recently signed two bills that increase public access to government records.

The first of the two bills now requires that "the public body receiving the request shall respond as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay." While this is an improvement over the prior law, which merely required that the requester be given a "reasonable opportunity to inspect or copy the public record," see ORS 192.440, Oregon still provides no set time period by which a governmental body must respond to a request for public records.

The second bill requires that records created or collected by an attorney or an attorney's agent are not exempt from disclosure, except to the extent that they include legal advice. According to the Reporters Committee:

The latter bill is in response to a 2006 Oregon Court of Appeals decision involving a citizen's request for public records relating to an internal financial investigation. . . . Under the new bill, government bodies would not be able to circumvent open records laws merely by involving an attorney in the process. The only documents that can be withheld under attorney-client privilege are those that include legal advice, opinion or counsel from the attorney. However, the bill provides some protection to government agencies unwilling to disclose complete records, since they may choose to release a condensed version of factual findings in lieu of the complete documents.

Both bills are clearly an improvement, but the lack of specific time limits for a response is a huge gap in Oregon's open records law.

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