Legislation placing deadlines on public records request responses in Alabama by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) passed the County and Municipal Government committee unanimously on Wednesday.

Under the bill, government officials would have to respond 16 business days after the date of the receipt of the request with either the requested records, a cost estimate for copying and production of the requested records, a full denial of the request, or a partial denial of the request

The government official would have no more than 45 business days to produce the records after the cost estimate is agreed upon with the citizen requesting the records.

Orr said at the committee meeting on Wednesday the legislation was a result of consensus on the issue between local governments and the Alabama Press Association.

“The bottom line for this bill is it will provide hard timelines for the production of public records and a process that I think we can certainly abide by and live by here in the state and bring some clarity to the issue,” Orr said. “Right now, we’re in the never never world of what’s ‘reasonable’ time and things like that.”

Under the legislation, any denial of the request would identify the subject matter of the withheld public records and cite the specific reason or reasons for the withholding that are known by the public officer at that time. A public officer may revise the initial reasons for a denial by sending the requester the revised reasons for the denial not more than 30 business days after the initial denial. 

Alabama's Open Records Law is generally considered to be one of the weaker laws when compared to other states. It allows citizens to inspect and take copies of records requested with exceptions but doesn't provide a specific deadline for when Alabama state and local governments have to reply to records requests.

In January, Gov. Kay Ivey signed an executive order requiring state agencies to respond to public records requests by a set deadline. However, the order doesn't apply to local governments.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.

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