Nevada bill would revamp, put teeth in public records law
CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Senate Government Affairs Committee was told Wednesday Nevada public records laws are routinely ignored and frustrated by state and local agencies that are never held to account for the violations.
Tod Story of the ACLU said SB287 needs to be updated and strengthened so governments follow it.
He pointed to the ACLU’s attempt to review sex education practices in all 17 school districts. He said one district took 18 months to comply and two others never responded.
He said agencies interpret the existing law in many different ways and the law has no teeth.
But opponents say the law needs to recognize real costs and understand the need to protect third party and personal information.
Matthew Christian of Las Vegas Metro Police Department said opponents recognize clarity in the law is needed.
“We need to know which documents are confidential and which documents are not confidential,” he said. “And we need to have an honest debate about costs.”
ACLU lawyer Maggie McLetchie said the problem is especially hard on regular citizens who she said often face resistance and delays.
“They do not have teams of lobbyists to speak for them,” she said.
McLetchie said one big problem is there’s no deadline under the existing law for agencies to respond to a request for records. In addition, she said agencies are still violating the law by piling overhead and unfairly excessive costs on those requesting public records.
“Exorbitant requests for fees can act as deterrents,” she said.
SB287 would allow a judge to impose penalties on the official who unfairly denies or delays access to public records. And those fines could be imposed up to $250,000 in severe cases.
It would require the agency to respond within 5 days to advise the requester whether they can comply, how much time that will take or if it must be redacted or may be confidential.
McLetchie said too often requesters are told the information will be provided in 30 days. She said 30 days later, they’re told it will come in another 30 days and eventually are never provided.
Trevor Hayes, who represented the Nevada Press Association for a decade, rejected the claims this is an unfunded mandate.
“No, this is a core function of government,” he said.
The bill suggests providing materials in electronic format instead of printing everything out.
Reno City Clerk Ashley Turney said converting microfiche at the city into electronic format would cost millions and she believes that’s what the bill mandates.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the bill doesn’t mandate they convert everything to electronic format.
Turney cited one example where a reporter asked for every email that had the word apple in it. She said more than 500,000 emails were identified that contained that word.
She said after talking in detail they got the number down to just more than 100,000 emails dealing with the Apple distribution center, but that after they were reviewed for confidential information, the reporter never came to pick them up.
She was joined by Chuck Callaway of Metro who said they have had so many requests from the October 1 massacre costing the department more than $1 million that they haven’t been compensated for. He said they’ve received requests for upward of 80,000 pages, “and receive no compensation for those requests.”
Callaway said Metro receives upward of 61,000 requests a year for public records.
Christian said it took nine months to put together and redact the body camera footage from the October 1 massacre and cost the department a huge amount of money.
In addition, he said many of Metro’s records contain huge amounts of personal information such as social security numbers and medical information that must be redacted, which takes a lot of time.
He said one request was for information on the son of an elected official they denied because the child was a juvenile. He said they won in court but the case is being appealed.
They said they have a duty to release public information but they also have a duty to protect third party and private personal information.
“This bill does not recognize the dilemma we are in,” Christian said.
The committee took no action on the bill.
The cuts would come as a direct result of reduced tax collections caused by business closures across the Silver State due to the COVID-19 pandemic.