It is time to put some teeth into Nevada’s public records law.
Government agencies have been flouting the law for years, refusing to turn over anything that might prove embarrassing to the agency or its bosses. The police refuse to release records. The school districts conduct investigations and refuse to release the results. One coroner refuses to release autopsies. The public employee pension system refuses to release the names and pensions of pensioners. Etc., etc., et forever cetera. They hire lawyers and use taxpayer money to fight and pay the costs of requesters when they lose, then shrug it off and do it all over again.
Now comes Senate Bill 287. It would put some skin in the game for the agencies and the people who wrongly deny public records requests.
Should SB287 become law, if a court determines a governmental entity or the person making the decision on behalf of the governmental entity wrongly denies a records request, the requester may be awarded a civil penalty of not less than $1,000 or more than $250,000 per offense from the agency or the responsible party or both.
That part about making the responsible party pay up should grease a few skids. Perhaps it also should specify that the agency may not reimburse the responsible party for the civil penalty.
A newly formed group called Right to Know Nevada sent out a press release via email on Friday supporting SB287.
Maggie McLetchie, an attorney who has represented the Las Vegas newspaper in a number of records lawsuits, was quoted as saying, “By ensuring that existing law is actually followed, Senator (David) Parks’ bill would reduce the need for expensive public records litigation, which is a good thing. The goal is to eliminate the need for costly lawsuits and to simply have the government be fully transparent and accountable to the people it serves, which is what state law already requires.”
ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Tod Story said, “While existing law already requires a response within 5 business days, we have experienced vastly different response times, not too mention fees, from governments across the state in response to the identical request. In fact, some agencies simply never responded to our request at all.”