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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Taft signs bill to ease citizens' access to public records


COLUMBUS - Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill into law yesterday that is designed to better arm citizens in enforcing their right to access public records.

The law, which will take effect in late March, requires all elected officials or their designees to undergo training on Ohio's public records law and to adopt internal policies on promptly complying with record requests.

It allows a citizen who successfully sues to force a government's hand to ask the court to order that government to pay damages of up to $1,000 as well as attorney fees and court costs.

"I am pleased to sign House Bill 9, which will make state and local government officials more accountable, and I appreciate the work of the Ohio General Assembly for passing this important piece of legislation," Mr. Taft said.

The governor had initially threatened to veto the bill after the House added a provision that allowed those who seek permits to carry concealed handguns to have their names removed from a list made available to journalists.

That provision was weakened somewhat in the Senate. Journalists would still have access to such a list but would be prohibited from making copies of the names, counties, and dates of birth of those on the list.

But it was a matter of debate when the measure passed as to whether this prohibition also barred journalists from writing such information into their notebook or reciting it into a recorder.

Sponsored by Rep. W. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton), the bill's genesis derives from a 2004 project of Ohio newspapers that documented obstacles citizens faced in exercising their right to look at and copy public records.

The Senate stripped the bill of a House-inserted provision that would have created a state public access counselor to assist in resolving disputes over public records.

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