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Impact statements a start

Oregon lawmakers have a long way to go to clean up the state’s public records laws, but progress is being made. A case in point is The Associated Press story in Tuesday’s Tidings: “Lawmakers consider bills to limit public records access.”

That may sound counterintuitive. We regularly advocate for more public access to records, not less. But that story is a sign of progress because not long ago it would have been difficult if not impossible to report.

Since 2017, state law requires that the Legislative Counsel’s Office prepare an open-government impact statement for every bill introduced. The same bill created the Oregon Sunshine Committee, tasked with reviewing public disclosure exemptions. Those exemptions now number more than 500, scattered throughout state statutes.

One of the reasons the exemptions got so numerous and hard to find was the lack of any tracking system. Thanks to the new impact statements, reporters for the Statesman Journal in Salem determined that, of the more than 2,500 bills introduced this session, about 80 were considered to have an impact on public access to records.

About half have died in committee. The remaining 46 would affect records in a variety of ways, from exempting some aspects of state investigations to protecting the names and addresses of multi-state lottery jackpot winners.

Not every exemption proposed is necessarily bad. Arguments can be make for and against any number of proposed exemptions. The important thing is to have that discussion in the open, with everyone fully aware of the potential consequences.

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