Oregon Public Records Law
- 1 Relevant legal cases
- 2 Proposed changes
- 3 Transparency report card
- 4 Features of the law
- 4.1 Declared legal intention
- 4.2 What records are covered?
- 4.3 What agencies are covered?
- 4.4 Who may request records?
- 4.5 Must a purpose be stated?
- 4.6 How can records be used?
- 4.7 Time allowed for response
- 4.8 Fees for records
- 4.9 Role of the Attorney General
- 5 Open meetings
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
The Oregon Public Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Oregon. The law was first enacted in 1973.
The Oregon Public Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Oregon FOIA procedures.
Relevant legal cases
Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Oregon (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).
|Davis v. Walker||1991|
|Gray v. Salem-Keizer School District||1996|
|In Defense of Animals v. OHSU||2005|
|Mail Tribune v. Michael Winters||2008|
|Marks v. McKenzie High School Fact Finding Team||1994|
|McEwan v. Holm||1961|
- House Bill 2118 would require health professional regulatory boards to keep confidential personal e-mail addresses of licensed professionals.
- House Bill 2339 would allow a district attorney, a deputy district attorney, the attorney general or an assistant attorney general to request nondisclosure of home address, home or cellular telephone number or personal electronic mail address.
- House Bill 2315 would allow the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to withhold investigative information until an investigation is completed and the department issues a report, unless public interest requires disclosure.
- House Bill 2369 would exempt from disclosure routine police traffic accident reports.
- House Bill 2390 would exempt geographic fisheries information submitted to a public body from disclosure.
- House Bill 2495 would exempt from disclosure employer account records of the State Accident Insurance Fund Corp.
- House Bill 2727 would unconditionally close concealed handgun license records.
- House Bill 2764 would close concealed handgun license records unless the public interest requires disclosure.
- Senate Bill 13 (like HB2369) would exempt from disclosure routine police traffic accident reports.
- Senate Bill 158 would allow the Department of Human Services to keep confidential investigatory records related to complaints against medical professionals after the investigation is completed and a report has been filed.
- Senate Bill 179 would exempt from disclosure estate records obtained by the Department of State Lands during the search for an heir.
- Senate Bill 618 would exempt military discharge records from public records disclosure." 
House Bill 2727 would prohibit public bodies from releasing information that could be used to identify holders of or applicants for concealed handgun licenses. Bill sponsors described the measure as an "effort to protect gun owners." The bill had the support of "half of the members of the Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, signing on as co-sponsors." Newspaper The Oregonian editorialized opposing the bill, saying that "a list of vague fears and discomfort about public access to these records" is not reason enough to prohibit public access.
- Create a comprehensive, free, searchable website for the state budget.
- Salary categories for state workers, contracted programs and performance outcomes.
- State Representative Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay).
- State Representative Jefferson Smith (D-Portland).
- State Representative Kim Thatcher (RKeizer,Newberg, St. Paul).
Transparency report card
A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Oregon 47 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 28 out of the 50 states.
Features of the law
- Compare States: Sunshine variations
- Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
The goal of the legislation is "...to encourage state agencies to inform the public, the Legislative Assembly and the Governor of matters of public interest and concern. It is further the policy of this state to guarantee to its citizens the right to know about the activities of their government, to benefit from the information developed by state agencies at public expense and to enjoy equal access to the information services of state agencies."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
ORS 192.410(4)(a) indicates that a public record includes any writing that:
- Contains information that relates to the conduct of the public's business
- Is prepared, owned, used or maintained by a public body
- Regardless of physical form or characteristics.
- If a record (a) does not relate to the conduct of the public's business and (b) is contained on a privately owned computer", then it is not a public record as defined in the law.
Notable exceptions include but are not limited to:
- Voice mail
- Telephone storage or retrieval systems
- Legislative Assembly records, including committee or employee records
- Library and museum special collections
- Archaeological sites
- Home addresses and telephone numbers of individuals where the safety of the individual could be threatened
- Medical records
- Sealed records
- Student records
- Inmate records (25 years)
- Information that concerns potential or current litigation
- Trade secrets
- Criminal investigation
- Real estate appraisal of potential land purchases
- "Records, reports and other information received or compiled by the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services"
- Personnel disciplinary actions
- Endangered species information
- Security information
- Audit reports of telecommunications providers including financial statements
- Records submitted to a housing authority by individuals seeking funding
- Donor information
- Credit cards, account numbers, and social security numbers
- "Communications within a public body or between public bodies of an advisory nature to the extent that they cover other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to any final agency determination of policy or action. This exemption shall not apply unless the public body shows that in the particular instance the public interest in encouraging frank communication between officials and employees of public bodies clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure"
- Personal information that would constitute an invasion of privacy
- Library records
However, if any record contains exempt and non-exempt material, the state is required to separate the two and release the non-exempt.
- See also: Deliberative process exemption
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
Oregon's definition of "agency" includes the executive and judicial branches of government, as well as all state and local levels. It seems to exclude the legislature, stating, "'State agency' means any state officer, department, board, commission or court created by the Constitution or statutes of this state but does not include the Legislative Assembly or its members, committees, officers or employees."
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
The legislature is explicitly exempted from the Oregon Public Records Law under Oregon Statutes, 192.410(5).
Privatized governmental agencies
The Oregon public records law includes all private agencies that were created by governmental bodies through statute and any entity that a court finds passes a balancing test including such factors as:
- If the private entity received or dispensed public funds.
- Was indirectly or directly created by a public entity.
- Performs a public function.
- Is controlled or managed by a public entity.
- See also: Universities and open records
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material and research are explicitly exempted under Oregon Statutes, 192.502.1.
Who may request records?
Anyone may request public records in Oregon. The law explicitly states, "Every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state."
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
Oregon law does not require a statement of purpose.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
Oregon law does not place restrictions on the use of records.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
No response times are specified by Oregon law.
Fees for records
- See also: How much do public records cost?
A fee "reasonably calculated to reimburse" may be charged, but no more than the actual cost to the agency.
- The burden of proof of establishing that specific charges are reasonable and actual is up to the custodian of the records. The custodian must be able to support that the charges are reasonable with specific supporting data.
- If the fee will exceed $25, a government agency must first provide an estimate of the fee and confirm that the requester wants to move ahead with the request.
- See also: Sunshine laws and search fees
- A charge for copies may also include the cost of staff time in conducting a file search and the cost of staff time involved in separating exempt records from non-exempt records. However, the agency is not allowed to charge for any attorney time spent deciding whether a record is exempt or not.
- According to the state's attorney general, the government agency can charge the requestor for the search time even if no records are located.
A waiver of fees or a reduction of fees may be given if the records that are to be disclosed "primarily benefit the general public." If a requestor asks for a waiver of fees, and the agency denies the request, there is an appeal's process available as described in ORS 192.440(5).
Note: If a particular government agency gets its funding from funds that are dedicated, whether by statute or the state's constitution, the agency is not allowed to waive its fees, no matter how much it may agree with the requestor that the purpose of the request would benefit the public.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
An individual whose request to access public records is denied by a state agency or official can appeal to the State Attorney General, who "acts not as legal counsel for state agencies, but in a quasi-judicial role." At the same, however, the State Attorney General's Office is also allowed under the law to continue to provide advice to the state agencies under scrutiny even after a petition has been filed against them compelling the agency to disclose public records.
If a public agency continues to deny an individual's request for public records after discussing the matter with the Attorney General, the individual may file a petition for review with the State Justice Department. The Attorney General has a period of seven days in which to decide whether or not to proceed in whole or in part with the petition. Should the Attorney General not reach a decision regarding the matter within that allotted time, "failure to issue an order is treated as a denial for purposes of permitting judicial review." Thereafter, the burden of sustaining its denial of the records request is placed squarely on the shoulders of the state agency in question.
However, under § 192.480 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, neither the State Attorney General nor any district attorney within the state is allowed to review the decision of an elected official to withhold a specific record from inspection under the public records law. Accordingly, "this rule applies regardless of whether the record in question is in the custody of the elected official or in the custody of any other public agency, so long as the elected official claims the right to withhold the record." Therefore, the only recourse for the requester is to take the matter up with the courts. At the discretion of either the State Attorney General or district attorney, the Attorney General or district attorney may serve as counsel for an elected official called into court over the matter of the refusal to grant an open records request to an individual.
In addition to publishing an annual Government Transparency Report to highlight the most pressing problems in the state's public records law, the State Attorney General also provides public citizens with a free online Public Records and Meetings Manual in effort to lay out specific rights under the law.
The Oregon Public Meetings Law states, "The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made. It is the intent of ORS 192.610 to 192.690 that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly."
- Oregon FOIA procedures
- Oregon transparency advocates
- Oregon transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Oregon
- Oregon Public Meetings Law
- Oregon Statutes, Public records & Public meetings
- Open Government Guide to Oregon
- Past articles on Oregon
- Open Up Oregon
- Open Oregon, a Freedom of Information Coalition website.
- Press release announcing the Open Books Oregon Project
- Ore. lawmakers call for spending records to be posted online, Associated Press, February 9, 2009
- Legislature should resist chipping away at access, Oregon Live, March 7, 2009
- Text and Status of HB2727
- Bill would shield concealed weapons permits, Mail Tribune, February 18, 2009
- Ore. lawmakers move to close gun permit records, Associated Press, February 21, 2009
- For state legislators, it's all about concealment, The Oregonian, March 12, 2009
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- Oregon Statutes, 192.235(2)
- ORS 192.410(4)
- Oregon Statutes, 192.005
- Oregon Statutes, 192.496
- Oregon Statutes, 192.501.10
- Oregon Statutes, 192.502.1
- Oregon Statutes, 192.505
- Oregon Statutes, 192.410(5)
- Oregon Revised Statutes, 192.420
- Oregon Revised Statutes, 192.440(4)
- Oregon Revised Statutes, 192.440(4)
- Oregon Revised Statutes, 192.440(5)
- Oregon Department of Justice - Public Records and Meetings Manual
- ORS § 192.480
- Oregon Statutes, 192.620
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