An open-records bill was endorsed Monday by a Senate subcommittee after being amended to require agencies to respond to records requests within five working days instead of two days, as initially proposed.
The time frame in SB123, now moving to the Senate Government Affairs Committee, marks a compromise between the two days suggested by the bill's author, Sen. Terry Care, and response times of up to 10 days suggested by government agency representatives.
People could make verbal requests for records, but the clock on the five days wouldn't start until a written request is submitted. The response wouldn't have to include the actual record, but instead could be an explanation of the time needed to get the documents.
"Having this in place will help strengthen Nevada's open-records law," said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association. Smith said some requests could still be handled verbally, but when written requests are necessary there would be a record in the event of litigation.
The NPA had argued that Nevada's existing open-records law lacks accountability and that some agencies have withheld whole documents instead of doing simple redacting.
Care, D-Las Vegas, a lawyer and former journalist, has said the law change is needed because agencies will sometimes ignore public records requests, forcing the requesting person to go to the expense of a lawsuit to get documents.
The bill wouldn't change existing definitions of what is or is not a public record under state law, and the courts would remain the final arbiter of records disputes.
Care has said public records requests should be considered part of government workers' everyday business. The measure says the bill for collecting requested documents would be based on actual costs.
Also changed was a provision to let someone apply to a judge for permission to inspect confidential records that are more than 10 years old. That was changed to 30 years or, if the record involved a person, upon the death of the person. A case still could be made for keeping the record closed.
In discussing the time frame for agency responses to record requests, state Welfare Director Nancy Ford testified last week that her agency got one request that took two weeks to sort out. Dan Musgrove, representing University Medical Center in Las Vegas, had similar comments.