Public Records Law Sent to Governor

By  | 

House Bill 113 passed the legislature and is now headed to the governor's desk. If signed into law, the time it takes for the public to request information would decrease from 14 days to seven days.

State Sen. David Blount says this type of legislation in long over due.

"It will reduce the amount of time that you have to wait from a public body or an agency. Right now it's 14 days, two weeks; that's about the longest in the country and frankly in most cases it's too long to wait," Blount said.

The law was first enacted in Mississippi through the Public Records Act of 1983.

But First Amendment attorney Leonard Van Slyke says sometimes public officials max out the time it takes to get these documents in the hands of the public.

"What has happened in the past, we have found, is that public bodies will let these requests sit on their desk until it's near the deadline," Van Slyke said.

Attorney General Jim Hood says his office has dealt with cases like this in the past. Hood says when officials take additional time to release requested documents to the public, it can often mean something else.

"It tells me, if someone is trying to keep you from getting documents, they've got something to hide," Hood said.

Hood also says he thinks that a lot of officials and public bodies attitudes have changed since the law was first enacted over 25 years ago. In the future, he sees these laws becoming more and more lenient.

"I suspect in ten years, you know, all these documents are going to be on the Internet anyway," said Hood. "I think it will do more to open up the public's access to what's going on in their government than anything else."

In the meantime, this legislation does not address a change in the fees attached to obtaining a public document.

As of now, this fee is said to be "reasonable" from the state, county, or local government agency that is receiving the request from the public to release information.