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National groups join chorus on RI open records law

The National Freedom of Information Coalition and, I'm told, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are joing the chorus of local groups urging Governor Chafee to sign the public records legislation approved by the General Assembly late Tuesday night.

A letter from Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of NFOIC, notes that the measure does not include all the reforms sought by local open government advocates. But it says the reforms in the bill "will help to ensure that the principle of open, transparent government is more than a platitude in the state of Rhode Island."

The letter also seeks to address one of the Chafee Administration's central concerns with the legislation - that new language requiring a balancing test between the public's right to know and the privacy of those who might be mentioned in public records could invite a spate of costly litigation. Similar balancing tests, mirroring the federal open records law, have been in place for years in Arkansas, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire without sparking a raft of lawsuits, Bunting notes.

Locally, the League of Women Voters has joined Common Cause, the ACLU, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and the Rhode Island Press Association in backing the legislation. The Providence Journal  has also editorialized in favor of the bill.

The state's existing public records law is considered one of the worst in the nation. Some of the reforms sought by advocates this legislative session, like opening up email and other correspondence between elected officials to public scrutiny, were not part of the final bill. But good-government and press organizations consider it an important step forward. 

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