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Public records bill delayed

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill that would strengthen Alabama’s public records law was delayed on Wednesday at the call of the bill’s sponsor in order to hear concerns from interested parties.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is sponsoring Senate Bill 165, which he says will help bring more accountability and transparency to government.

“We have got to allow the public reasonable access to [public documents] in a reasonable time, and it’s that simple,” Orr said. “They’re not an agency’s documents. They’re the people’s documents.”

Orr asked for more time so that anyone with concerns or amendments to the bill could come forward before it is voted on in committee.

Brad English from the Alabama Press Association has worked with Orr on the bill and said he was hearing more opposition than support for it.

“We realize there is a lot of work to do on this, but one positive thing is that we are starting to get some dialogue from other groups, and it would be a whole lot easier to tell you who is for the bill as it exists than who is against the bill as it exists,” English said.

The bill would require agencies to respond to public records requests within 14 days and would limit the fees the agency could charge for duplications. The bill prevents any records protected by court orders or other personal private information from being released.

Agencies would not be allowed to charge more than 20 cents for black and white copies of documents and 75 cents for color copies, unless they can provide evidence for reasons to charge more. Copies of electronic records could not be charged more than one cent per page.

The bill also establishes a way to appeal record request denials, which would go through a Public Access Counselor within the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts.

Similar bills have come forward in the Legislature in the past but have run into roadblocks from smaller local governments saying this would put undue stress on their already understaffed and underfunded agencies.

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