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States Are Suspending Public Records Access Due to COVID-19

The Markup – There is little precedent for such action, even in an emergency: “…Hawaii is among several jurisdictions around the country that have amended or suspended access to public records as the coronavirus spreads. Governors are taking emergency action in some states, ordering changes to public records compliance during the crisis. Other states and municipalities have made legislative changes to their laws. But government-transparency advocates argue that in a time of crisis, access to public records is even more important.  Officials say they need to take drastic actions to battle the pandemic. In New Jersey, where the state legislature amended its open records law, an analyst with an association of state municipalities told that officials “need the flexibility during emergencies to be able to run government and respond to the emergency at hand.” A San Diego county spokesperson told the Voice of San Diego recently that “the public interest in receiving records at this time is outweighed by public interest in having county personnel free to handle this ongoing emergency. State and local jurisdictions aren’t the only ones making changes. At the federal level, government agencies are making their own decisions about how to process requests. But it’s clear those requests are facing heavy delays. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) recently found that several agencies were telling requesters to expect delays through the course of the crisis…”

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