CARSON CITY – Gov. Steve Sisolak signed public records access reform into law Thursday with changes designed to make it easier and cheaper for average citizens to view or obtain official documents from governments and public agencies and penalize those agencies when they don’t comply.
Senate Bill 287, a candidate for underdog bill of the session, officially takes effect Oct. 1. Buried in committee in mid-April, it languished there until the Legislature’s final week, when it found its way back onto the active agenda through the efforts of three senators.
The measure was one of eight bills Sisolak signed ahead of Friday’s deadline for him to act on approved legislation. With Thursday’s tally, Sisolak has signed 615 of 640 bills passed by the Legislature and vetoed two. The governor’s office has scheduled a number of bill-signing events for Friday.
Public records reform was pushed by Right to Know Nevada, a coalition of civil rights and good-government groups and media organizations including the Review-Journal. The original bill sought far tougher penalties against agencies that block or stall on providing records, including punitive court fines and costs.
The bill received a series of amendments in the final week that scaled back the schedule of potential fines — to $1,000 for a first offense up to $10,000 for third and later offenses within 10 years, with fines going to benefit the state archive and library. Other changes addressed local agency concerns about records privacy. The bill also tightens requirements for how agencies respond to and correspond with a requester on providing documents.
The governor has long been an advocate for easy, prompt public access to government records.
“When you say public records, people need to remember they’re public,” he told the Review-Journal in April after his first 100 days in office. “That means the public has a right to see them. It shouldn’t be a game of, you know, hide and seek in terms of how to find (them).”
The governor also signed two wide-ranging appropriations bills, one to fund various state museums and cultural institutions and the other adding funds for school safety and student mental health programs, including social workers and school police officers.
Friday is the last day for Sisolak either to veto or sign legislation passed during the 80th session that adjourned June 3. He can also allow laws to go into effect without his signature.
By law, Nevada’s governors have 10 days following adjournment to take action on bills, with Sundays excluded. Any bills vetoed after adjournment come back to the Legislature at the start of its next session for override consideration. Thus far, Sisolak has only vetoed two bills.