CARSON CITY — Last Memorial Day, with only a week left before the Legislature adjourned until 2021, a bill to strengthen the public’s right to access official records held by government agencies looked headed for the legislative trash heap – until several lawmakers stepped in to save it.
A week later, an amended bill won final passage in the waning hours of the session. The governor signed it the following week. On Saturday, the Nevada Press Association recognized the bill’s eleventh-hour rescuers as First Amendment champions for their efforts.
Six award recipients “each played a significant role in passing a law that will lead to increased government transparency,” association Executive Director Richard Karpel said Tuesday. “We are grateful for their work, which will benefit all Nevadans.”
As approved, Senate Bill 287 put teeth in state public records law by creating fines against agencies that withhold records and tightening rules on how agencies must respond to requests. Amendments that won its passage tweaked the schedule of fines and addressed some privacy concerns. The changes to the law take effect Oct. 1.
The reform effort was pushed by Right to Know Nevada, a coalition of open government groups and media organizations including the Review-Journal. The bill’s passage was the Press Association’s highest legislative priority of the session. At its annual awards ceremony in Ely on Saturday, the association recognized three legislative sponsors, the Assembly speaker, the governor and an open government advocate for championing the effort:
Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, the prime sponsor, who carried the bill initially as chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee. When the bill faltered, Sens. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, and Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, stepped in to work with stakeholders and make compromise revisions. They resisted “intense pressure from government lobbyists to water down their amendments,” according to remarks Karpel gave on Saturday.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, who Karpel said “made sure the bill was a priority” and “kept the bill moving in the session’s final hours.”
Tod Story, executive director of ACLU of Nevada, a co-founder of the Right to Know coalition who helped draft the original bill.
Finally, Gov. Steve Sisolak, whose outspoken support for open government and public records access “helped focus public attention on the issue” and sway legislative leaders to back it.
“This bill faced opposition from a small army of government lobbyists, who were paid by taxpayers to argue against providing public records to taxpayers,” said Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook, who served as the association’s board president during the 2019 legislative session. “The association’s members are grateful that these lawmakers and Gov. Steve Sisolak saw through every false choice and fallacy put forward by these lobbyists and made sure this bill became law.”