Olens looking for more transparency

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 1, 2011, 3:20pm


ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens is looking to strengthen and clarify the state's current Open Records and Open Meetings laws.

According to Olens' office, state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, filed a bill on Monday in the House of Representatives that rewrites the Open Records Act and the Open Meetings Act.

The new measure would simplify the current laws and provide new safeguards for both the public and government officials, Olens said.

"While traveling around the state last year, I heard repeatedly from concerned citizens that our current Open Meetings and Open Records laws are more confusing than constructive," Olens said in a statement.

"Georgians deserve a clear, coherent law that enforces good government practices and allows them to hold their elected officials accountable. I believe this legislation makes great strides toward that goal."

Powell agreed, "I look forward to joining (the attorney general) in working with local governments, agencies and the press to increase transparency and open government while safeguarding legitimate government interests."

The bill would increase the maximum penalty for Open Meetings and Open Records violations to $1,000, and adds fines of up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense for one year following.

Right now, the maximum fine for Open Records violations is $100, and for Open Meetings violations it is $500.

The Open Records portion of the bill also reaffirms that requests must be handled in no more than three days and removes many ambiguous provisions that have caused delay in the receipt of public records, the Attorney General's Office said.

Meanwhile, the Open Meetings portion of the proposed legislation makes clear that a board cannot evade the law by meeting in subsets that equal less than a quorum.

The bill also would require that all votes be taken in public and that minutes be taken of any executive session to ensure compliance with the law, according to the Attorney General's Office.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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