Making The Public Records Process More Accessible
A Guest Column by State Senator Jay Hottinger
July 19, 2016
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Earlier this month, we celebrated Independence Day. Many of us dusted off our grills and aired out our picnic blankets to enjoy a day of grilling out capped off with an evening fireworks display. As always, this holiday gave us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the document that inspired this annual celebration: the Declaration of Independence.

When Thomas Jefferson sat down to pen the Declaration of Independence, he wrote, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” America was founded upon the principled belief that a government should be of the people, by the people and for the people – as Abraham Lincoln himself said decades later. 240 years later, this truth is just as deeply ingrained in our hearts and minds.

A transparent government is what set America apart centuries ago, and today we must strive to ensure our government stays open and honest. This is why the members of the Ohio Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 321. This legislation, introduced by Senate President Keith Faber, created a process that makes it quick, cost-effective and simple for average Ohioans to navigate the public records request system.

Before the bill was signed into law, contesting a denial of a public records request was a long, costly and arduous process. The person whose request was denied would have to hire a lawyer and fight the decision in court. Many could not afford the time-consuming, expensive proceedings and would have to drop their plea. The passage of Senate Bill 321 ensures that all Ohioans have a realistic way to appeal a public records request decision.

The new law allows Ohioans to pay a $25 filing fee to have their case heard by the Ohio Court of Claims, which was originally established to hear claims against state entities in matters including employment discrimination and contract disputes. Under the updated process, the Court of Claims hires a court mediator to send a recommendation for review to a judge, who then issues a ruling on the dispute. The person bringing forth the dispute will most likely not have to hire a lawyer, and a decision is required within 45 days.

It's important to keep government open, accessible and accountable. We can never forget our history. We can never forget the motivations and intentions that became the foundations on which America was firmly built. Our government was never intended to operate behind closed doors. Senate Bill 321 strives to open the doors of government to all Ohioans, and I'm proud to have voted for it.

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