Lawmakers promise to address open records laws

In a state criticized for falling behind the times, where corruption runs rampant and elected officials are forced out of office; one law stands as a metaphor for Alabama politics.

Posted: Nov 7, 2017 2:15 PM

(Note: This story originally aired in May 2017)
In a state criticized for falling behind the times, where corruption runs rampant and elected officials are forced out of office; one law stands as a metaphor for Alabama politics.
"One of the key things I looked to was the fact that these laws haven't been touched for many years," Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), said.
Now lawmakers say it's time to change the Alabama Open Records Act.
"Certainly when we're looking at laws that haven't been adjusted for decades, you know technology is changing very quickly, so we need to incorporate that," Sen. Holtzclaw added.
Six weeks ago WAAY 31 went to the heart of state politics, meeting in Montgomery with your lawmakers. Many of them said they had no idea this was a problem until we told them.

"I'm very surprised. I'm glad you brought that to my attention," Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), said in response.
"I think that's something that we need to look at and address," Speaker Mac McCutcheon said.
It's something media experts both in and outside of our state are already examining.
"I think the stories you are reporting underscore the problems with Alabama's open records law," Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Alabama, said.
Miranda Spivack, a veteran Washington Post reporter and visiting professor at Depauw University, told WAAY 31 two simple changes to the Alabama Open Records Act would go a long way.
"There needs to be a time limit. There should be a limit on how much they can charge you," she added.
Because you shouldn't have to wait around for months, send emails to agencies every single week, or shell out cash for records that are supposed to be public. You deserve answers from the people whose salaries you pay.
The lawmakers we spoke to agreed.
"I don't know if 10 or 15 days is appropriate, but any time a request comes in, someone needs to review it and determine how do we reply," Rep. Williams said.
"If it's just someone walking from the desk back to the file drawer to open a file, bring a file back....there's no reason for a fee and no reason it should take a long time to do that," Sen. Arthur Orr, (R-Decatur), said.
Making those changes is completely in your elected officials' hands.
"This is an area that the legislature should address so that the government can become truly transparent in Alabama," Randall Marshall said.
Transparency your lawmakers say they want to see.
"I would hope that we're not looking to be a blockade, but actually facilitating public information that's part of public records," Sen. Holtzclaw said of the situation.
"Any state service should be open to the public. At their request, they should do everything within their power to get the request done as soon as possible," Speaker McCutcheon said.
We're waiting and watching, in the hopes change is made before time runs out.

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