Senate Pounds Through Emergency Bill To Block Open Records Request

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Yesterday I wrote about an open records I filed for comments posted in the North Dakota legislature’s bill tracking service. I was curious if those comments were open record or not, and so filed the request to find out.

The response so far has been to rush though legislation to block open records requests for that information through both houses of the legislature, without the usual committee hearings or other procedures, all while not responding to my request.

Yesterday the House passed the emergency bill, which I’m just going to go ahead and call the Rob Port Act at this point, by a unanimous vote. Today the Senate voted, but it wasn’t quite unanimous. All in all seven Democrats voted no. Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider voted for the bill, but spoke on the floor against skipping the committee hearings and other democratic due diligence that usually goes into legislation before it is voted on. Senator Connie Triplett voted against the bill for those reasons, and was joined by six others.

Here’s the floor debate from today, and by the way Governor Dalrymple signed the bill shortly after the Senate passed it.

Senator Wardner suggests both he and Legislative Council are confident the records are already private, but if they’re so sure why the extraordinary measures to block the request? As House Majority Leader Al Carlson noted yesterday, he hasn’t seen a bill passed this way in his 20 years in the legislature.

I think this has become less about whether or not the bill tracking records should be open or closed to public scrutiny – I’m inclined to agree with the bill the legislature has passed – but about the disdain many in the legislature seem to have for a transparent and open process. Not only are they rushing through a bill with little or no debate, they’re no doubt hoping to apply it retroactively to my request (I’m assuming that will be the reason for its rejection when I ultimately receive a response).

The moral of the story? Don’t file a controversial open records request when the legislature is in session. They might just block your request with ex post facto lawmaking.

Triplett and the others who voted against this bill are right. This process stinks, and has given a black eye to this legislative session at its very beginning.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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