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Media contends attorney general-sponsored bill will reduce government transparency


CARSON CITY - Media members  complained Thursday that state agencies might routinely reject requests by citizens for records unless changes are made to an attorney general-sponsored bill designed to clarify the public records law.

Karen Gray, a reporter for the Nevada Policy Research Institute's Nevada Journal, said if Assembly Bill 31 passes in its current form, it would turn transparency in government on its head.

"The bill says government officials will determine what records are open," she said. "I already face delays in obtaining public records. Government agencies don't want to show their waste or fraud."

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said judges, not  bureaucrats, should determine whether a record is open for inspection.

State laws specify what records now are confidential, and the presumption has been that records not deemed confidential by law are open.

No action was taken on the bill heard in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee.

Assistant Attorney General Keith Munro proposed an amendment to address media concerns, but it will not be considered until a future meeting.

Under the bill, each agency director would assign an employee as public records manager. That employee would decide "if a public book or record of the government entity, if on the facts of a particular case, the public interest of the nondisclosure of the particular public book or record clearly outweighs the public interest served by the disclosure of the public book or record."

That is called the "balancing test" and was created by the Supreme Court in a prominent decision, and Smith contended the decision limits the authority to make such tests to judges.

But Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, said he read the balancing test decision and thought it "was relatively favorable to open records" and questioned the media opposition.

"We are just putting it into statute," said Anderson, a law school student.

Jack Mallory,  a lobbyist for the Southern Nevada Building and Trades Council, said if the bill passes, "you are going to create a more litigious situation."

Record managers "arbitrarily" would decide a record was confidential, and then people would have to go to court to get the what they want, though no state laws deemed the record confidential, he said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

 

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