- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - While Tennessee lawmakers do not fall under the state’s open records law, the General Assembly’s policy is to make what officials call a good faith effort to comply with requests from the public.

Under those rules, lawmakers are asked to search their own correspondence and emails for records they consider to be responsive to the request. That’s not good enough for one senior Democrat, who argues that it shouldn’t be up to each of the 132 lawmakers to decide which documents to release.

“To trust the members I don’t think is fully responsive,” said Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. “The state owns these email accounts, and they should make sure they’re being fully responsive.”

A recent Associated Press request for a week’s worth of emails and daily schedules from legislative leaders in all 50 states was met with as many denials as approvals. In Tennessee, the top two Democrats and top two Republicans complied with the request.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, provided a combined 1,600 pages of emails and calendars as part of the request.

Harris said he was unsuccessful in getting either the office of legislative administration or the state attorney general’s office to take over responsibility for producing the records from his email. Instead, he provided the AP with the logon and password to his legislative email account to inspect it in its entirety.

Harris, a Memphis attorney, likened the Legislature’s rules to allowing somebody who is being sued in a workplace sexual harassment case to decide which documents to turn over in the discovery process.

“This is not in the spirit of freedom of information,” he said.

The same records request was also made of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, which released emails but maintained a long-held position of refusing to provide his personal calendar on the basis of “deliberative process privilege” under common law.


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