107°F
weather icon Clear

New bill seeks teeth for Nevada public records laws

Updated March 15, 2019 - 8:14 pm

CARSON CITY — Backed by a bipartisan and diverse coalition of government transparency advocates and news organizations, a newly introduced bill is looking to add some bite to Nevada’s toothless public records laws.

Senate Bill 287, introduced on the Senate floor Friday, would bring three major overhauls to Nevada laws governing public records: limiting fees that governmental agencies can charge for records and requiring digital records whenever possible rather than costly paper duplicates; adding penalties and fines of up to $250,000 for agencies that improperly withhold records; and requiring agencies to work with records requesters to help them find what they are looking for rather than denying them on a technicality.

“Modernization and efficiency are the two operative words in describing this bill to update Nevada’s public records law,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada.

The bill was referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee for hearings. Lead sponsor Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the committee, said the bill represents “a concerted effort by a broad group of individuals who have diverse interests.”

Coalition seeking transparency

That group includes civil rights and good government advocates, media organizations and current and former elected officials who have coalesced to form the group Right to Know Nevada to support improved access to public records. The coalition includes the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the ACLU of Nevada, the Nevada Press Association, the Nevada Policy Research Institute and more.

In a statement from the group Friday coinciding with the observance of Sunshine Week, Maggie McLetchie, a Las Vegas attorney who litigates public records cases, said the measure would likely reduce litigation over the accessing and obtaining of records.

“The goal is to eliminate the need for costly lawsuits and to simply have the government be fully transparent and accountable to the people it serves, which is what state law already requires,” McLetchie said.

In other states, such as Missouri and North Carolina, public officials can be held personally liable for violating public records laws. In Nebraska, those officials could face impeachment. And in West Virginia, Colorado and Arkansas, they could even face jail time.

Hurdles to getting records

Nevada’s public records law states that all government records, unless specifically deemed confidential under state law, are considered public and available for review by citizens. Confidential records include police officers’ home addresses and child welfare documents.

But governments in Nevada have no shortage of ways to avert the public’s view, from citing unrelated legal clauses to denying requests to charging fees that climb into the thousands of dollars and imposing waits of months or longer without a response.

Last year, it took a court order for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to release the body camera footage and 911 calls from the night of the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival that left 58 people plus the shooter dead.

The city of Henderson initially rejected a Review-Journal records request for the investigative report that led to former Police Chief Patrick Moers being ousted from his job. The city claimed that it was confidential because it was a personnel record and that making the report public would discourage employees from coming forward with complaints.

And despite a court order deeming autopsy reports public, the Clark County coroner’s office is still refusing to release those documents, citing a decades-old Nevada attorney general’s office opinion.

The coalition is hoping to cut back or even eliminate those issues by means of the new bill.

“Government agencies willfully ignore the plain language of the Nevada Public Records Act because they face no consequence for doing so,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said Friday. “No matter how many times the media and others successfully sue for the release of public records, the culture of secrecy worsens across the state. Roughly two dozen states punish those who illegally refuse to release public records, and those states have far more transparent, accountable governments. Nevada’s climate won’t change without the addition of teeth to the Public Records Act.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
THE LATEST
Sisolak signs public records reform bill into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill that strengthens Nevada’s public records law, making it easier and cheaper for people to get public records and providing for fines if public agencies willfully flout the law.