Tennessee Legislators Reportedly Put off Open Records Law Until Next Year

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Legislators have put off a bill designed to ward off people who supposedly make one too many open records requests, according to the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

The legislation, Senate Bill 590 and House Bill 626, permits people who work for Tennessee government entities to seek an injunction against anyone who seeks public records requests “in a manner that would cause a reasonable person, including a records custodian or any staff of the public entity in control of the public records, to be seriously abused, intimidated, threatened, or harassed.”

“The bills’ sponsors, Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, offered different amendments to their bills before asking to defer committee action until the first calendars of 2020,” according to the TCOG’s website.

“Both said they filed the bills at the request of the city of Gallatin who had been overwhelmed by requests to inspect records from one particular public records requester.”

As the TCOG went on to say, an amendment made exceptions for journalists and anyone who wanted to gather government information for mass audiences. That activity does not constitute harassment. Government entities would also have to file a report with the state’s Office of Open Records Counsel when they sought an injunction against a requester.

“But perhaps the most significant change to Lamberth’s bill were requirements that government entities make public records more easily accessible to the public,” according to the TCOG.

“Lamberth said he heard from hundreds of people across Tennessee, including those frustrated with getting public records from governments. He added a requirement to his bill that government entities post ‘basic information’ on their website.”

As The Tennessee Star reported, some people who were angry with the original version of Lamberth’s bill took to social media to disapprove of HB626.

Lamberth’s follow-up statement that he is “working . . . on an amendment to House Bill 626 in efforts to streamline the process of open records requests, protect record custodians, increase online accessibility, and to enhance government transparency” was apparently a direct response to that public disapproval.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to chrisbutlerjournalist@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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