SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature is considering 46 bills that would limit access to public records, including documents related to state investigations, trade secrets, personal medical information, election security, crime victims’ identities and more.
The Statesman Journal reports the reasons for limiting public disclosure of these documents are enumerated in so-called open-government impact statements that, for the first time during a regular legislative session, are required to be completed for every bill introduced.
When the Legislature took on Oregon’s public records exemptions in 2017, one of the bills it passed created the Oregon Sunshine Committee. The group reviews all of the state’s public records disclosure exemptions.
That same law also required Legislative Counsel to prepare open-government impact statement for every measure to identify if it would make the state more or less transparent, or have no impact.
More than 2,500 bills have been introduced this session, and about 80 were determined by the Legislature’s lawyers to have an impact on the public’s access to records. About half of those bills have since died in committee.
The remaining 46 cover a wide range of fields and would impact records in different ways.
Some of the bills are expressly written to target an aspect of public records law, while others impact transparency while attempting to address something else.
A number of bills would restrict from public disclosure aspects of investigations undertaken by the state.
Among a host of other provisions, Senate Bill 155 would require the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission conduct all investigations of suspected abuse or sexual conduct by school employees.
But unless the commission decides to take disciplinary action against a school employee, any information or reports related to the investigation are not public. Additionally, records received by the Department of Human Services would remain exempt regardless of the investigation’s outcome.
Some bills under consideration would seal certain court records from public view.
For people who have had an eviction action against them, SB 873 would allow them to apply for an order to have that action sealed. The defendant would have to meet several criteria: the order must be a restitution judgment, five years have past since the judgment, the judgment has been satisfied and it was a judgment by stipulation.
If those criteria are met (or if the judgment was dismissed) the bill would require the court to seal the records of eviction. Currently, records of eviction action are subject to public disclosure.
Another bill specifically creating a new public records exemption is House Bill 3389, which would make confidential the name and address of a prize winner of a multi-state lottery game offered in more than 30 states.
The confidentiality of lottery prize winners has long been an issue of balancing an individual’s privacy (and fear of being overwhelmed with requests for money) with the public’s right to know the game hasn’t been rigged.
As of late last year, there were only a handful of states where a lottery winner can remain anonymous: South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas.