Open Government Legislation

SB 321 – Public Records Process Changes (2015-2016)

Link to Bill:
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA131-SB-321
Status:
Enacted
Summary:

SB 321 provides a voluntary and new alternative to hiring an attorney and going to court to seek action when obtaining public records access that has previously been denied or delayed.

SB 321 also limits attorneys’ fees awards in specific types of legal actions and prohibits courts from awarding fees above and beyond actual attorneys’ fees. Courts are also allowed to reduce the amount of fees awarded if they find other means could have been pursued, like the mediation process created by this legislation.

Primary Sponsors:
Secondary Sponsors:
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Committee:
Government Accountability and Oversight (H), Government Oversight and Reform (S)
LSC Legislation Status:
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-status?id=GA131-SB-321
Jurisdiction/Legislation Level:
State
Our take on this bill:

As the public records law stands now, someone who has requested records from a state actor and is experiencing an unreasonable delay or refusal has legal options through the court system to try and obtain the records. SB 321 appears to create a faster and easier process through the courts, though it also produces issues that may discourage the public filing suit or even from seeking records.

SB 321 creates the following complications:

  • prohibits courts from awarding fees above and beyond actual attorneys’ fees
  • creates a new mediation process while also leaving the door open to punishment if the new process is not used
  • Putting in to state law language that may prevent access and punish certain people the government deems too persistent

These changes remove incentive to discourage the government from refusing public records access in the future. As history shows, there is a problem with government entities at all levels around the state denying public records to Ohioans who are entitled by law to them.  The ACLU of Ohio receives many of these requests and understands this issue firsthand.

ACLU of Ohio will be closely observing to see if the new mediation process created by SB 321 works as intended.

Bill Status:

Introduced in the Senate 5/2/16

Passed the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee  5/11/16

Passed the Senate 5/11/16

Passed the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee 5/25/16

ACLU interested party testimony 5/24/16

Passed the House 5/25/16