The Oregon Senate Moves Toward Greater Government Transparency By Approving More Independent Public Records Advocate

In a fractious session, lawmakers from both parties unanimously vote for shedding more light on government operations.

Protest at Oregon Capitol on Feb. 6. (Justin Katigbak)

In a short session dominated by partisan brawling over climate legislation, Oregon state senators voted unanimously today to strengthen the office of the state's public records advocate, who is supposed to free up documents that will shed light on how government bodies operate.

"I carried this bill on the floor for a vote because it's critical that Oregonians have access to transparency and that the records of the State's business are made available to any who seek them," said state Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) in a statement.

Thatcher and state Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) jointly sponsored Senate Bill 1506 at the request of the state's Public Records Advisory Council. That group sought to fortify the position of the public records advocate, which lawmakers formed in 2017 in response to abuses of the Oregon Public Records law during the tenure of former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

But as WW first reported, Ginger McCall, whom Gov. Kate Brown appointed to be the state's first-ever public records advocate found her position untenable as Brown's counsel, Misha Isaak, pressured her to place Brown's political interests ahead of Oregonians' interest in transparency.

McCall resigned in September after just 18 months on the job over what she saw as excessive meddling by Isaak in her operations.

The Public Records Advisory Council sought to make changes to head off such influence in the future. SB 1506 would allow the PRAC, rather than the governor, to appoint McCall's successors; and it would explicitly allow the public records advocate to weigh in on legislation, which was one of the flashpoints between McCall and Browns' office. (Special interests and lawmakers regularly seek exemptions from the public records law—there are now more than 500 such loopholes.)

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

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