Newberry bill would reform state’s public records act

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Rep. Brian Newberry

PROVIDENCE – In response to what he says is inconsistent and less than timely responses for public information from the state of Rhode Island, House Rep. Brian Newberry submitted legislation to update and reform the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

Newberry, a Republican representing District 48 in North Smithfield and Burrillville, said the legislation would:

– Centralize all APRA records request handling and management, compliance, training, and agency education, for agencies which report to the governor and all quasi-public agencies, within the Department of Administration; 

– Encourage DOA to make all reasonable efforts to post records which would be public under APRA in an online, searchable database and/or website, to prevent those records from having to be requested in the first place; 

– Require all records that are not emails, text messages, police reports, or police body worn camera footage, to be provided at no cost to the records requester, unless DOA determines a cost is required to fulfill the request. The requester would be able to appeal the cost estimate to the Attorney General’s office, and this would follow the appeal procedures currently laid out in the APRA law. There would be a presumption that any request cost in excess of $500 shall be deemed excessive unless the agency can demonstrate an actual cost of that amount;  

– Notwithstanding the foregoing, all records would to be provided electronically, to the extent possible, and at no cost, other than the cost of labor, unless the requester specifically requests paper copies of records. Further, DOA would need to make all efforts to use the resources available to it in existing budgetary authority, including public information officers and other communications personnel at state agencies, to fulfill records requests at no additional labor cost to requesters;

– DOA would provide a uniform set of fees to be applied across all state agencies and quasi-public agencies for fulfilling APRA requests. 

“Rhode Island’s APRA law is old and fundamentally flawed in that it places the burden of compliance on any public entity regardless of its size and capabilities,” said Newberry. “Hawaii decided to consolidate APRA request assistance, training, education and compliance into one state agency to improve public access, while reducing duplications and inefficiencies. We look to emulate that model and bring Rhode Island into the 21st century by creating a searchable information portal for all state government documents that apply to APRA, standardizing and eliminating fees, and abolishing inefficient practices.”

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