COLUMBUS – Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) introduced legislation this week designed to make it easier for Ohioans to navigate the public records request process. Senate Bill 321 provides an expedited process to an individual who has had a public records request denied by a public office at the state, county and local levels.
At a press conference last week Faber previewed the legislation, joined by State Auditor Dave Yost, representatives of the Attorney General’s office and Dennis Hetzel, the Executive Director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
“This is about open government and building fairness and the public’s confidence in a process that often is out of sight and out of mind until someone needs to put government to the test,” Faber said. “I greatly appreciate the recommendations and support of Auditor Yost, Attorney General DeWine, the judicial branch and the Ohio Newspaper Association over the last several months as we worked on making this process more affordable and accessible to Ohioans.”
The bill, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, will establish procedures for filing a dispute if a person’s public records request is denied. If that happens, the individual can file a complaint with the Court of Claims that will begin with a mediation process designed to resolve the dispute over access to the requested public records.
“Too many citizens get stonewalled by someone who doesn’t want a record to become public, and this bill will help tear down those stone walls,” said Ohio Auditor Dave Yost. “Senate President Faber’s bill will help stop the foot dragging and make it easier, faster and cheaper for people to obtain records.”
By starting with mediation, the requestor and the public office would avoid the traditional court process that is prolonged and often requires costly legal fees. If the mediation fails, then a Special Master at the Court of Claims will issue an expedited recommendation on how to resolve the dispute that will then be reviewed by the Court of Claims who ultimately issues a binding decision.
“Senator Faber’s bill will help make public records more easily accessible and would save Ohioans from having to pay expensive legal fees,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“It’s important to remember that the public owns public records, and government only is the custodian of them,” added Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. “With this bill, Ohio can join the majority of states that have an expedited process to settle many disputes over records without citizens having to hire lawyers and go to court. Not only that, Sen. Faber’s proposal offers a fresh approach that could become a national model.”
Ohioans still retain the right to seek available remedies under the current, existing legal process by filing a traditional mandamus action.