North Dakota has a problem with repeat violators of the state’s open records and meetings statutes. For instance, the North Dakota University System has violated open records/meetings laws no fewer than 18 times since 2010.
The violations are repeated and flagrant. In discussing the matter with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem recently, he told me that usually a negative opinion from his office is enough to embarrass a given state agency into future compliance with the law. Speaking to me about the university system Stenehjem said, “They just don’t seem to care.”
So is there a way to put some teeth in the law to get the attention of those who treat public transparency with disregard? Rep. Randy Boehning (R-Fargo) seems to think so. A bill he has introduced – HB1435 – would allow the Attorney General’s office to impose a $500 civil penalty to repeat violators of open records laws.
Here’s the key change to the law:
This seems reasonable to me.
North Dakota’s open records/open meetings laws fairly simple. While an accidental violation of them might be understood, it’s hard to fathom any public servant operating in good faith violating them multiple times.
But even given multiple violations, this law allows for the Attorney General to exercise some discretion in applying the fine.
The only thing I worry about is a secretary or an assistant in some office getting tagged with a fine for violating open records/open meetings laws at the behest of a superior. But perhaps the prospect of a fine will make said employees less likely to accept orders to willfully violate the law.