Monday, March 17, 2008

Bill puts deadline on record requests

Officials would have 4 days to respond By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer • March 16, 2008 A proposal advancing in the state legislature would make some key changes to the Tennessee Public Records Law, including a deadline of four business days for government officials to respond to records requests. There is no deadline now. Under the proposal, the government worker who is the "custodian" of the record would have to provide the records, deny the request in writing — and explain the decision or say how much time would be "reasonably necessary to produce such record or information." Failing to respond would be considered a denial, which would allow the person seeking the records to appeal the decision in court. Fewer than a dozen other states have response deadlines of four days or less, according to data compiled by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "It will compare well," said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The bill, which is moving through the state Senate, would create an advisory committee to look at some issues the legislation doesn't get to, such as access to electronic records. The legislation also leaves open meetings to the side for now. A legislative study committee had considered a proposal that would have allowed just under a quorum of members of a public body, such as the 40-member Metro Council, to meet in private. In the Metro Council's case, that would have allowed 26 members to meet behind closed doors. "We felt the recommendations would have weakened the law," said Gibson, a former government editor at The Tennessean. As the legislation stands, "half a loaf is better than no loaf at all," Gibson said of the progress it would generate.

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