Sunshine Week: A review of AB 159

Editor's note: In honor of Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, the Nevada Policy Research Institute is going to be examining bills in the Nevada Legislature that would impact the state's open-meeting law, public-record requests or other transparency issues. Sunshine Week is a national effort to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Assembly Bill 159, which revises provisions relating to public records, appears to succinctly eliminate the significant obstacles government entities often hurl at members of the public who request public records.

Under AB 159, oral requests for public records would be given the same timelines, notifications and access as written requests. While current law seems to provide for this, some government entities only recognize written requests for records. For example, just last month, the Clark County school board publicly denied two verbal public-records requests made at a public meeting, including one made by NPRI, stating the request "must" be made in writing. Despite the school board's subsequent change of position, the board's public record still indicates a mandate for written requests.

In another significant clarification, AB 159 would require the person who has legal custody of a public record to prepare a copy of the public record, if requested. This clarification prevents government bureaucrats from denying someone a copy of a record because the requestor has no way to make his or her own copy. This clarification could also save staff time and resources, because it would allow a person to inspect a larger file of public records onsite, identify the few records of interest and have the staff copy just those records. This would eliminate the need for staff to shuffle through the larger file to locate the few records the requester actually wants copied.

Public oversight and government accountability would also be improved under AB 159, which would: require copies of public books and records to be made available immediately upon request, in certain circumstances; limit the fee that may be charged for a copy of a public record in the custody of a law library operated by a governmental entity to 10 cents per page; require that copies of minutes and audio recordings of public meetings be made available to the public upon request and at no charge; reduce the fee a county clerk charges for copying records, proceedings or papers; and eliminate the fee a county clerk charges for searching records or files in the office of the county clerk.

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