- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A task force looking at possible changes to North Dakota’s open records laws is considering whether the attorney general should be able to penalize government agencies that hold illegal private meetings or don’t share records.

The group of lawyers, newspaper editors and law officers is formulating draft legislation to be considered by lawmakers next year, The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/29EwmsO ) reported. The task force is seeking to update laws for the digital age and deal with some controversial open records issues, such as allowing correspondence between legislators and correspondence between legislators and applicants for major posts at public universities to be open records.

“If you don’t want your name to be known, you shouldn’t apply for the job,” said Jack McDonald, a media attorney who represents the newspaper.

Some agencies repeatedly break the rules with little punishment, said McDonald.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem acknowledges that lack of enforcement power is a common complaint. But he said he’s never had an agency refuse to comply with a formal opinion issued by his office. He said he issues increasingly stern warnings to repeat violators and that he once ordered an agency to undergo open records law training.

Stenehjem said that if the attorney general could fine and agency, it would raise concerns about due process. However, he has asked an assistant attorney general to vet a formal hearing process in Iowa.

The group also talked about protections for witnesses and victims of crimes and referred them for future debate.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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