Transparency bill seeks to close loopholes in FOA

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By Mike Lange, executive director, Maine Press Association

It’s rare when you see two Maine organizations with different political philosophies agree on anything.

But when the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center and the liberal-leaning Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union shared a podium recently to endorse the “Time for Transparency Act,” people took notice.

The major thrust of the proposed bill is to close a major loophole in Maine’s Freedom of Access law that allows public agencies to indefinitely postpone — or effectively ignore — requests for information.

Or, as Chris Cinquemani of the MHPC explains, “Transparency without deadlines is not transparency at all. The government puts deadlines on taxpayers and the public. It’s time government was held to that same standard.”

Here’s the scenario: I walk into a school superintendent’s office and request a copy of his contract, even noting that personal data — such as Social Security numbers — can legally be redacted.

 The office staff says that no one is available to comply with the request, but please come back later. So I do — eight or ten times. They’re hoping that I finally give up and fade away.

I won’t give up, and I’ll probably write a story about the district’s sandbagging. But the average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t have the same persistent traits of a journalist.

The bill not only makes the beat reporter’s job easier, but enhances everyone’s rights.

The Time for Transparency Bill is a work in progress, not a final document. The Maine Press Association will be working with the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, the Right to Know Advisory Committee and other groups to fine-tune the language.  Nevertheless, I credit the MHPC for getting the ball rolling, so to speak.

There’s a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. The public’s right to have legal access to open records is no different.
 
Mike Lange can be reached at mainepress@hotmail.com.

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