Deal signs open records measure into law

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law a measure that proponents say strengthens the state’s open records law.

The state legislature this past session approved House Bill 397, which “advances good government policy by ensuring citizens’ access to government, while recognizing the need for government to operate efficiently and protecting the confidentiality of sensitive information,” Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a news release.

“This bill will help bolster the state’s ability to bring jobs to Georgia while simultaneously aiding the fundamental rights of the people to inspect the records of their government,” Deal said in a news release.

“This legislation toughens enforcement of our Open Records law by substantially increasing penalties for noncompliance, allows for civil as well as criminal procedures and requires that all votes take place in a public forum,” Deal said. “We have crafted a document that makes it easier for Georgians to keep track of their government’s activities and to know their rights, and it clarifies the responsibilities of public officials.”

According to a news release from Olens’ office, the measure includes a number of changes:

  • Makes clear that final votes must be taken in public, including on real estate transactions;
  • Clarifies and streamlines how government officials must respond to a request;
  • Lowers the cost of records from 25 cents to 10 cents a page;
  • Enables government to act more efficiently by permitting certain meetings by teleconference in emergency situations;
  • Requires minutes in closed meetings with review by a court when a challenge is filed;
  • Provides the teeth needed to enforce the law by allowing the Attorney General to bring civil or criminal actions against violators;
  • Increases fines for violations to a maximum of $1000, and up to $2500 for additional violations within a year. Prior fines were a maximum of
  • $100 for an Open Records violation and a maximum of $500 for an Open Meetings violation;
  • Updates language regarding trade secrets and electronic documents to ensure transparency is not compromised by technological advances; and
  • Incorporates various court rulings to simplify the law.

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