Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday ordered state agencies to follow new procedures for responding to public record requests, changes intended to provide structure in a state with one of the weakest open records laws in the country.
Ivey signed an order instructing executive-branch agencies to: establish a portal for requests; respond within 15 days for a simple request or 45 days for a more complicated request; and limit fees to $20-per-hour for preparation time and 50 cents per page for paper copies.
“Access to public records is essential to guaranteeing transparency in government, and I am proud to sign this executive order that improves this process as a whole,” Ivey said in a statement.
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However, the order only applies to executive-branch agencies and does not address an appeal process or the exemptions that have been used to deny requests.
Alabama’s public records law says any citizen has the right to inspect and take copies of public writings, except for those exempted by law. However, it does not provide deadlines for responses or an enforcement mechanism beyond filing a lawsuit.
A 2007 comparison of state open records laws conducted by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition ranked Alabama at the bottom of the nation. While the review gave 38 states, including Alabama, an “F” grade, Alabama tied for last place in the comparative rankings.
Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said the executive order is a step forward. Mason said many state laws provide remedies to pursue if a request is denied and most address response requirements and possible fees.
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“We applaud the governor’s executive order which provides a minimum response time as well as addressing the fees charged for obtaining the records,” Mason wrote in an email.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, who has previously tried to overhaul the open records law, said he also welcomed the governor’s efforts. Orr, a Republican from Decatur, Alabama, said he will introduce legislation in the upcoming session to include other government entities.
“I certainly applaud the governor’s efforts to bring more transparency to state government. However, the work must continue with city and county level governments to complete the circle,” Orr said.
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