Bill supporting requests for public records advances to full Assembly

CARSON CITY — A bill setting timetables for government agencies to respond to requests for public records won approval in a key committee on Saturday and was sent to the Nevada Assembly for a final legislative test.

SB123 was endorsed by the Government Affairs Committee and must now be approved by the full Assembly before it can go to Gov. Jim Gibbons for his signature. An Assembly vote was expected today.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, a lawyer and former journalist who said he was motivated by government agencies that have ignored public records requests.

The Nevada Press Association also endorsed the bill, saying that the existing open records law lacks accountability and that some agencies have withheld whole documents instead of doing simple redacting to delete nonpublic information.

The bill was amended to gives government agencies five days to comply instead of two as initially proposed. Lawmakers also deleted sections that would cause the government to waive confidentiality rights automatically under certain circumstances.

SB123 also calls for confidential government documents to be made public by a court order if those records are more than 30 years old. Documents controlled by the state Gaming Control Board are exempted from the measure.

Lawmakers had heard some concerns about the cost impact of the measure, although Care questioned why a government agency would need more staffers to comply with records requests.

The bill does not change which records are public, but it does say that if only part of a record is confidential — a Social Security number, for example — agencies must redact the confidential section and provide the rest of the record.

The Senate had amended the bill to exclude documents from the state Gaming Control Board over Care’s objections. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, had argued that the gaming agency’s investigations are so wide-ranging that its documents include personal information about licensees that the public has no interest in knowing.

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