The Nevada branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is planning to introduce legislation significantly revamping and expanding the state’s public record laws.
Through a bill draft requested by Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom, the Nevada ACLU plans to push for what it’s calling the “Silver State Sunshine Act,” which would enact concrete time limits for responses to public records, expand public records law and modernize public record requests.
“We think it’s way overdue,” ACLU of Nevada director Tod Story said. “And it’s necessary for the public in order to know what laws are being deliberated and debated, that they have access to the records.”
Most attempts to increase governmental transparency in Nevada end up falling short, and Story admits that reaction has been “mixed” among lawmakers.
One issue that Story helps the bill address is to apply public records law to legislators, after a 2016 Associated Press investigation found the Legislature isn’t technically considered a “governmental entity” and that public records laws didn’t apply to things like emails and calendars.
The proposed legislation would expand to include the Legislature under public records law during the 120-day session.
It also seeks to waive fees associated with public records request if they’re considering a “public education entity,” though Story said the details were still being finessed. It would also rework and include digital documents as public records, and create a 30-day limit for agencies to produce requested public records (current state law only requires a response within five business days to a request, and no hard deadline to produce the requested records.)
The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, said they’re supportive of the proposal. Robert Fellner, the group’s transparency director, said
“Obviously we’re very much in favor of transparency,” he said. “Anything that would strengthen the state’s public records law we’re in support of.”
Other state-level agencies are also seeking to amend public records law during the 2017 legislative session — the state Attorney General’s office has already submitted a bill, AB42, that would re-categorize the state’s existing system of public records to echo the federal Freedom of Information Act system. It also modified the definition of a “person” so that state agencies can request records from other agencies.
Story acknowledged that such a dramatic change in transparency laws could prove difficult, but said it’s a top priority for the ACLU this session and that the group is planning to publicly pressure lawmakers to support it.
“The reactions have been mixed, but I can tell you that anybody I've talked to who is not a legislator has said, ‘Oh for sure, transparency in government is something across the board that we need.’”