A bill to require state entities to put deadlines on public information request responses ran out of time in the 2023 regular legislative session, and the Alabama Press Association (APA) isn’t happy about it.
“We were very disappointed we could not get that across the finish line,” said APA executive director Felicia Mason. “There had been a lot of work done by a lot of different entities.”
The bill, SB196, passed the Senate with zero no-votes in May. State Sens. Bobby D. Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Keith Kelley (R-Anniston) were the only senators who did not vote or were not present. Later that month, the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee gave the bill a favorable report. It never went up for a vote in the House before the session ended on Tuesday.
Mason insinuated Gov. Kay Ivey’s office had opposition to the bill.
“The governor’s legal team didn’t want our bill to apply to state agencies,” Mason explained.
Alabama’s public information laws are some of the weakest in the country, and Mason suggested that most states have some sort of deadline for public information requests. In fact, she said the deadlines proposed in the bill were much longer than most.
Currently, the only law establishing some semblance of a timeline for public information requests is an executive order signed by Ivey in January. The order requires state agencies under the executive branch to respond within 15 business days for a standard request and 45 business days for a time-intensive request. However, these deadlines are subject to extensions.
Mason said these extensions are indefinite. She suggested that not only would the deadlines proposed in SB196 have applied to all public entities in the state, but it would have placed limits on extending those deadlines.
“The bottom line is it was in conflict with the governor’s executive order,” she explained.
She said Ivey’s office wanted lawmakers to prevent the bill from applying to state agencies.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) suggested something similar. He told 1819 News that Ivey’s office wanted to take a closer look at the legislation.
Mason insisted the APA will continue to support strong public information request deadlines, and she hopes to help bring another bill forward next year.
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