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VOL. 123 | NO. 97 | Friday, May 16, 2008

Notification Requirement Dropped From Open Records Bill

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) – House lawmakers have scrapped a proposal requiring public officials to be notified whenever they’re the target of an open records request.

A House subcommittee on Wednesday approved the change to legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads. The committee also agreed to a provision allowing records custodians to charge for searches that take longer than five hours.

The budget subcommittee members removed the notification proposal without discussion, in contrast to previous heated debate during emotionally charged hearings on the issue.

Open government advocates had worried that the notification rules would intimidate citizens and jack up the costs of a records request, and that the resulting controversy could kill the measure for the year.

“They also would have made it even harder for the public to get records – particularly anything that involved public officials or public employees,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, of which The Associated Press is a member.

The subcommittee delayed voting on the open records bill because of questions about its costs. The governor earlier this week said he’s cutting $40,500 from the records ombudsman office’s spending plan as part of his effort to balance the state budget.

McDaniel’s legislation puts the

open records ombudsman position into law and requires that office to develop a reasonable fee schedule that would become the statewide standard once it is approved.

The bill also would give records custodians no more than seven days to respond to open records requests or explain why they need more time. There currently is no deadline for responding to requests.

Also, only Tennessee residents would be able to file open records requests in the state, under the bill.

The companion bill that has already passed the Senate would set a five-day time limit for responding to records requests and includes no notification or residency requirements.

The Senate bill reflects a compromise between open government advocates and local government associations, while many of the House changes were made on the urging of Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis.

Read HB3637 on the General Assembly’s Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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