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EDITORIAL: Assembly must pass public records reform legislation

In a victory for government transparency and accountability, the state Senate on Sunday afternoon voted unanimously to toughen Nevada’s public records statute. As the 2019 legislative session enters its final hours, the Assembly must now determine whether its allegiance is with government lobbyists or the taxpayers.

Senate Bill 287 — sponsored by state Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, and backed by a diverse coalition of press, civil rights and taxpayer groups — would implement a host of common-sense reforms in the name of ensuring Nevadans have access to the records and documents compiled by the public-sector agencies that work on their behalf. It is intended to prevent government officials from stonewalling public records requests, a tactic all too common by recalcitrant bureaucracies.

The measure originally called for stiff financial penalties on bureaucrats who defied the law. But as is often the case when it comes to advancing important proposals in Carson City, compromises were made in order to prevent SB287 from dying of neglect in the face of an onslaught by government lobbyists. The potential fines were watered down and applied to agencies, not individuals, but the disincentives to flout the law remain.

“This is our best effort to come up with what we think is good policy,” state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said of the compromise amendments made to the bill.

Late Friday, the Senate Finance Committee forwarded the measure to the full upper house. On Sunday, the proposal passed without a single dissenting vote and now heads to the Assembly.

With one full working day remaining until the regular session’s scheduled adjournment, the danger remains that SB287 will get lost amid a last-minute flurry of activity and a continued full-court press by public-sector lobbyists working against the interests of the very taxpayers who pay their salaries. That mustn’t happen. The compromises have already adequately addressed concerns raised by government officials. Any further opposition will reflect only the reflexive intransigence of public officials and agencies when it comes to allowing citizens to access the information necessary to ensure state and local governments are operating as intended.

Secrecy breeds corruption, abuse and deceit. SB287 is an antidote to such ills and vital to the cause of good government. The measure’s unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate sends a strong message to the Assembly leadership that it must be a priority as sine die nears. If this bill doesn’t make it to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk, the Democratic majority in the lower chamber will have pledged their fealty to well-heeled public-sector lobbyists over the citizens of Nevada.

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