SALEM — The state will face more lawsuits from local governments if lawmakers pass public records reform in 2017 without a supermajority vote, according to a lobbyist who represents county governments.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum earlier this month submitted draft legislation that would for the first time set a deadline for public bodies to respond to records requests. The bill gives public bodies 10 business days to furnish requested records, with certain exceptions.
Rob Bovett, a lobbyist for the Association of Oregon Counties, said some county officials might see that deadline as an unfunded mandate because they might have to pay overtime or hire people to meet the deadline.
Some counties have “grown increasingly frustrated with the regularly unfunded mandates” from lawmakers, Bovett said.
“They’re not taking it anymore; they’re actually suing, so it’s a different universe,” he said.
Nine counties in May filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that a requirement to give 40 hours of paid sick leave to employees is an unfunded mandate.
The lawsuit is based on a 1996 amendment to the Oregon Constitution that requires lawmakers to reimburse local governments when new requirements with a fiscal impact are adopted without supermajority support. In Oregon, three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate must vote in favor to make a supermajority.
“In order to avoid getting struck down as unconstitutional, we need to have this bill go through the Legislature by overwhelming majorities, so we have to build consensus on this,” Bovett said. “Otherwise, we are going to be litigating pieces of this as an unfunded mandate.”
Bovett made the comments during a discussion Wednesday about possible changes to the bill. Lobbyists who represent local governments asked Rosenblum Wednesday to revise the bill to give public bodies 15 business days to provide requested records.
The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and Society of Professional Journalists had supported the shorter deadline.
Michael Kron, special counsel to the attorney general, said some of the revisions to the bill will include the longer 15-day deadline but also language to emphasize records should be provided as soon as possible.
The legislation stemmed from the work of the attorney general’s Task Force on Public Records Law Reform, which included local government interest groups and journalist groups.
“It was a consensus compromise,” Rosenblum said of the revisions.