Alabama lawmakers advance bill to strengthen state’s weak open records law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Senate on Thursday advanced legislation aimed at strengthening the state’s weak open records law by setting deadlines to respond to requests to view public documents.Senators voted 29-0 for the legislation. The bill now moves to the House.”Right now, under current law, it’s the wild west. We don’t have timelines for governments or universities to respond in due time,” Republican Sen. Arthur Orr, the bill’s sponsor, said.COLLEGE DEI CRACKDOWN PASSES ALABAMA SENATEAlabama’s public records law says any citizen has the right to inspect and take copies of public writings, except for those exempted by law. However, it does not provide deadlines for responses.The legislation would require a public records officer to acknowledge the receipt of a simple request within 10 days and then “provide a substantive response” to the request within 15 additional business days. Public entities would be given more time to respond to requests that would require more than eight hours of work to fulfill.Civil lawsuits would continue to be the only avenue for settling disputes. The bill sets out timeframes for when a request is presumed to be denied because of a failure to respond, allowing a person to move forward with a lawsuit.A 2007 comparison of state open records laws conducted by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition ranked Alabama at the bottom of the nation. While the review gave 38 states, including Alabama, an “F” grade, Alabama tied for last place in the comparative rankings.Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said the organization commends Orr for his work on the bill.”This bill establishes timelines and creates a framework for the public to make requests for public records. It also provides guidelines for the custodians of records in fulfilling the requests,” Mason wrote in an email.The bill does not address public access to police body camera video. A Senate committee this week rejected a separate bill to require the public release of the video.
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