- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Legislative leaders are pushing a measure that would identify lawmakers who make written - and often costly - requests for public records, but attorneys warned Thursday that legislators could skirt such a law by making requests by telephone or face-to-face with no paper trail.

North Dakota lawmakers currently can make anonymous requests for public records through the Legislative Council, which is the Legislature’s research arm. There have been some cases where unnamed lawmakers have made single requests for thousands of pages of documents “that have cost taxpayers large amounts of money,” said Sen. Tim Flakoll, the main sponsor of the bill.

“It is treated as a blind request where only the requestor and the Legislative Council know who made the request,” the Fargo Republican told the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. “This is a provision not afforded to other public servants, including the governor.”

Flakoll cited one request made this week that he said has resulted in more than 30,000 emails, “and 100,000 pages of documents that would require an estimated 1,000 hours of attorney time for redaction.”

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who represents North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters, spoke in favor of the legislation. But he and John Bjornson, a lawyer for the Legislative Council, told The Associated Press that if the bill becomes law, only lawmakers making written requests would be stripped of their identity.

“There is no record unless it’s put on paper,” Bjornson said.

With no written record, the Legislative Council would not be obligated to release a lawmaker’s name due to attorney-client privilege, he said.

“We would have to revisit that policy if this (bill) is adopted and adjust it accordingly,” Bjornson said.

North Dakota’s Senate approved the bill 44-3 last month. The House committee didn’t take action on the bill Thursday.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson; Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks; and House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

Carlson told the AP there is still time to amend the bill and fix the loophole “to make sure it’s any” open records request by a lawmaker that would result in that legislator being named.

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