New bill may provide better access to public records

Since a new house bill was introduced in 2006 to Ohio State Legislature, nine of the 126 general assemblies have changed previous regulations involving public records.

The bill has made multiple changes to public record laws that not only will affect court room cases, but media as well. Journalists too, rely a great deal on access to public records.

“By and large, the bill is a good thing for journalists,” said Victoria Ekstrand, an assistant journalism professor at the University. Ekstrand believes that the bill is a response to issues involving the ethical concerns in the Taft administration.

According to the Ohio State Legislature Web site, House Bill 9 allows a public office the ability to “deny a request for public records when the requester makes an ambiguous or overly broad request or the public office cannot reasonably identify the public records being requested, but must provide the requester an opportunity to revise the request.”

People who requests records also now have the power to sue and recover damages if the office of public records does not comply, according to Ekstrand.

This may limit the amount of information journalists can receive when seeking out story sources, and make access to information more difficult and time consuming.

The bill was approved by the House on March 15, 2006, and passed by the Senate on Dec. 13, 2006, according the office of local representative Randy Gardner. The effective date of the bill, after being signed by Governor Ted Strickland will be this month.

The bill was introduced by Ohio House representative Scott Oeslager back in January 2005, as a response to a public record audit that showed only half of all public record requests were being filled, according to Gardner’s office.

The bill addresses journalists specifically when it comes to public record requests dealing with concealed weapons.

The bill “allows a journalist to submit to a sheriff a signed, written request to view the name, county of residence, and date of birth of each person for whom the sheriff has suspended or revoked a license to carry a concealed handgun or a temporary emergency license to carry a concealed handgun,” according to the Ohio State Legislature Web site.

The sheriff is then required, by the new bill, to grant the journalist’s request

Journalists, however, won’t be the only ones to benefit from the passing of the bill.

“In a study done by the National Security Agency, on the federal level, the largest sector of requests [for records] came from the private sector,” said Ekstrand. This includes corporations, educational facilities and average citizens’ requests.

Overall the bill should resolve problems people were experiencing when trying to access public records.

The only potential downfall, according to Ekstrand, is stretch of state government resources, such as time, money and effort, to make sure the new rules are being carried out.

Students, journalists and others interested can learn more about the bill and what changes were made by it, by accessing the Ohio State Legislature Web site at