Open-records bill pushed into next Maine legislative session

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AUGUSTA — A bill that would provide greater public access to government records has been delayed until the next legislative session.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which is reviewing the bill, will continue its deliberations in the fall.

The Right to Know Advisory Committee, made up of representatives of the government and the press, is also reviewing the bill. That committee only meets when the Legislature is not in session, so will likely make its recommendation to the Judiciary Committee this summer.

The bill, LD 1465, has bipartisan support in the Statehouse, but is opposed by a coalition of government officials and agencies.

The legislation was drafted by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Maine Civil Liberties Union, and is sponsored by Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport.

It seeks to amend Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which governs the way government agencies provide public access to documents.

While press and open-government groups have praised the proposed changes – which include requiring an agency to have a trained public access officer, creating a time line for making documents available, and requiring that the records be made available in any of the digital formats in which it exists – government representatives have called the requirements “burdensome.”

“We think clear deadlines will only help the public’s access to public information,” MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows said. “We support this bill as advancing the right to access public documents.”

The Cape Elizabeth School Board, on the other hand, has sent a letter asking the committee to kill the bill.

“This piece of legislation would create burdensome operating conditions, inhibit government functionality and ultimately cause greater harm than good,” the letter said.

Representatives from the town and school departments in Falmouth, and the Maine Municipal Association, also oppose the bill.

“Any reforms to expand the public’s right-to-know require government to be more responsive and accountable,” said Maine Heritage Policy Center Communications Director Chris Cinquemani, who drafted the bill with the MCLU executive director. “The fact that so many officials at all levels of government are opposed to this greater transparency shows just how critical it is that we create a more open government for Maine people.”

The bill is co-sponsored by 30 senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Rep. John Hinck, D-Portland, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland and Rep. Kimberly Olsen, R-Phippsburg.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.