Currently, lawmakers have the ability to make anonymous requests for public records through the Legislative Council, which is the Legislature’s research arm. However, Senate Bill 2222 sponsored by Republican Senator Tim Flakoll, of Fargo, is looking to end these types of anonymous open records requests by legislators by attaching a name to written requests made by lawmakers.
The bill, which passed the Senate 44-3 last month, is now currently being debated within the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Sen. Flakoll, who spoke in front of the the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, stated that there’s a need of increased transparency and accountability for when lawmakers make requests for very large volumes of records, especially due to the fact that they end up costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
The current law allows for lawmakers to make requests for public records anonymously through Legislative Council attorneys, which Sen. Flakoll believes is giving “special treatment,” especially considering the fact that other public officials, including the governor, don’t have the ability to make such anonymous requests.
While the proposed legislation is looking to end the ability of lawmakers to make anonymous requests, it still provides a potentially huge loophole. Lawmakers can still remain anonymous if they make their requests for public records verbally.
John Bjornson, the Legislative Council attorney who handles the majority of public records requests made by lawmakers, estimates that nearly half the requests for a record come to him verbally. Without a written record of these conversations, lawmakers would therefore still be able to remain anonymous per the current wording of the bill.
The committee currently hasn’t taken any action on the bill.