D.C. Council Members David Grosso (Ind.-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) on March 15 introduced a bill packed with updates to District laws to strengthen citizens' access to the government information they need.
Changes concerning public records requests will:
- enhance requirements for agency searches for requested public records
- end fees for records if the cost of billing is more than the charge
- extend the deadline for answering records requests from 15 to 20 days but prohibit any fee if the agency response takes longer
- allow appeal of agency denials of fee waiver requests
- require online publication of all records supplied (“release to one, release to all”)
- end special privacy protections for police records
- direct appeals to the independent Office of Open Government and give the Office authority to sue an agency for violation of open records law
- require an early agency response if a denial is challenged in court
- expand access to attorneys’ fees in public records lawsuits
- stiffen penalties for government employees who willfully disobey the law
- move the annual report on agencies’ disclosure activity from the mayor to the Office of Open Government and require data on agencies’ 10 oldest pending requests
- add a requirement for a report by the Council on its disclosure activity
- add authority for the Office of Open Government to set uniform procedures for handling requests and establish an improved tracking system.
Changes concerning open meetings will:
- include Advisory Neighborhood Commissions among the public bodies that must comply
- require meeting notices to be posted on the Office of Open Government website
- clarify when and how meeting records must be made available to the public
- allow citizen lawsuits against agencies that violate the law (and allow recovery of attorneys’ fees)
- enhance enforcement powers for the Office.
The bill also requires D.C. giovernment agencies to list their data and make public all but the most sensitive. The "open data" mandate would for the first time be part of the law of the District. It was previously only in internal orders of past mayors.
Speaking at the Open Government Coalition’s sixth annual Sunshine Week Summit at the National Press Club Tuesday (14), Darby Hickey, Legislative Assistant to Mr. Grosso, acknowledged the assistance of many individuals and organizations including the Coalition in preparing the bill. It has been referred to the Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.
To assist Advisory Neighborhood Commissions with new obligations, she said the Council hopes to work with its ANC Office and also the Offices of Open Government and of the Chief Technology Officer to make training and other resources available.
The bill is the “Strengthening Government Transparency Amendment Act of 2017,” B22-0188. No hearing date has been set.