Public records law would be eviscerated by state Senate bill

Senate Bill 28 would fold, spindle, mutilate and shred Nevada’s strong public records law.

Government agencies already can charge people who ask for public records the actual cost of providing those records, but SB28 defines “extraordinary use of its personnel or technological resources” to mean 30 minutes of public employee time or 25 pages of records. And the government agency can charge 50 cents a page, whether the records are provided on paper or electronically.

Image how much it would cost the Nevada Policy Research Institute to obtain the thousands of pages of government employee salaries and pension benefits? The cost would be prohibitive.

Why should an agency be able to charge someone who walks in with a thumb drive and asks that a record be uploaded to it?

The current law states that, unless otherwise specifically exempted by law, “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied or an abstract or memorandum may be prepared from those public books and public records.”

Presumably, if some slow-poke public employee takes half an hour to find the public record being requested there would be a charge just to inspect the record.

SB28 incentivizes public employees to take their own sweet time.

Of course, the bill is being pushed by numerous local government agencies and by the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities.

Victor Joecks, NPRI’s executive vice president, and the Nevada Press Association’s executive director, Barry Smith, both testified against the bill.

The Las Vegas newspaper editorialized on the bill, calling it the “Worst Bill of 2015.” It pointed out the records do not belong to the government entities, but are the records of the people whose tax money was spent to create them.

“Governments, and government employees, are merely their caretakers. Public documents are the work product of your tax dollars. And the only way you can verify whether governments are functioning efficiently, ethically and within the limits of the law is to have access to those records,” the editorial explains.

This bill would allow government agencies to waste money, engage in corruption, nepotism, favoritism, misfeasance and malfeasance with impunity, unless someone with deep pockets is willing to pay the tab.

The bill should be amended in such a way that “all” public records must be uploaded to the Internet in the metropolitan counties and that in the rural counties each agency must maintain a computer terminal with all the records available for inspection.

Even though the law says a public records request may not be denied because the record contains confidential information if the governmental entity can redact that confidential material, the agencies already often demand huge fees for doing the redaction.

Public records should not be co-mingled with confidential information in the first place. In fact, if the information is confidential, why does the government have to have it?