The first major changes for decades in Oregon’s public records laws went into effect in 2018.
They were an improvement, but there’s room for more. So we are pleased to see that the Oregon Sunshine Committee is scheduled to meet again — after not meeting for more than a year.
The new law set deadlines for government entities to respond to requests. Basically they got five business days to respond to a request and another 10 days to fill it. But — and this is a big but — they can take longer than that. And the fees charged even if they are reasonable to the government can be like a wall blocking people from getting the records.
The Legislature also created the Sunshine Committee. The committee was given until 2026 to review all the exemptions in Oregon law. There are 651, according to a draft report from the committee in 2020. And the exemptions tend to grow.
That draft report does not seem particularly confident the committee’s task will be completed. “If the ten-year project of exemption review specifically contemplated by ORS 192.511(3)(a) is intimidating, then the prospect that it may not be completed within that time despite the work members are putting in is simply horrifying,” the report reads.
Of course the committee doesn’t have to wait until 2026 to get its work done. But by not meeting for more than a year, speed doesn’t seem a priority for state government when it comes to transparency.
The old joke is when you want to satisfy people clamoring for change, you create a blue-ribbon commission of experts to analyze the problem. That tends to mollify people. And there is little actual change.