Ever since Oregon's public records law was passed some 40 years ago, special interests have been nibbling holes in it. This week, with the help of Rep. Judy Stiegler of Bend, the legislature bit off another chunk.
Stiegler issued a press release on Monday talking about her role in the passage of HB 2727, a bill that would create an exemption from the law for information about holders of concealed handgun licenses (CHLs).
Sheriffs in counties across Oregon, including Deschutes, have been simply flouting the public records law and refusing requests by reporters for information about concealed-carry permits. This legislation essentially throws a cloak of legality over what the sheriffs have been doing illegally.
To be fair, the bill isn't as bad as it could have been. It doesn't unconditionally conceal CHL records from the public eye, as the sheriffs and the gun lobby wanted. But it says such records can be disclosed only "upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the public interest requires disclosure." The sheriffs will decide whether a request for disclosure meets that test; if they say no - as they're virtually certain to do 99% of the time - whoever made the request will have to go to court.
Stiegler's bill also gives the holder of a CHL the right to argue why the record shouldn't be made public, and to be notified whenever somebody requests the record.
The core premise of Oregon's public records law is that records should be available to the public unless there's a clear and convincing reason why they shouldn't be. HB 2727 turns that principle upside down.
But there are practical as well as principled reasons why this is a bad bill. Without access to CHL records there's no way for the public to judge whether a sheriff is doing a fair, impartial and competent job of deciding who gets such permits.
And what about a woman who might like to know whether her abusive ex-husband or some guy who's been stalking her is likely to walk up to her someday and pull a 9-mm Beretta? Shouldn't she be able to find out without going through a long, expensive court battle and having to confront the abuser or stalker?
It's disappointing that Judy Stiegler, who was elected as the more progressive candidate, took this stand. She says she "tried to take a really bad bill and make it better," but she sacrificed the vital principle of open government for the sake of a bill that, in essence, is no better than the old one.
So here's THE BOOT to Stiegler, along with the hope that the state Senate - or, failing that, Gov. Ted Kulongoski - will BOOT this bill into oblivion.