North Dakota House Votes To Close Off Some Crash Report Data To Open Records Request

In it’s original form, SB2310 would have closed off all traffic crash reports to open records request. Today the House considered an amended version of the bill which is less bad – it only closed off personal data like dates of birth, addresses, and drivers license numbers from open records – but still a move to shut down important access to public data.

Here’s the floor debate.

Rep. Dan Ruby, who ultimately voted against the bill, stood up and defended his committee’s “do not pass” recommendation. He pointed out that while the bill is much improved over the Senate version, he didn’t see why any of the data needed to be closed off given that the Department of Transportation has been making it public for years.

This has all come about, according to the floor debate, because of an unnamed law firm making weekly requests for crash reports state wide with the assumed intent of using that data to recruit new clients. Think of it as a sort of ambulance chasing through open records request.

The Department of Transportation didn’t like all the requests, and wasn’t sure they agreed with the reason for the requests, and that was the genesis for this legislation.

It’s hard to get up in arms at the idea that your phone number and date of birth will no longer be a public record, but I’m also not comfortable with state agencies asking people the reason for the public records request.

As someone who makes a lot of records requests, I get asked that question all the time by state bureaucrats who are afraid that I’m looking for information that doesn’t reflect well on them or their agency. And, to be fair, I usually am on exactly that sort of a fishing expedition. But then, that’s what transparency laws are all about.

This change in the laws is more about protecting citizens than government agencies, but still. It gives me heartburn to ever see any access to public records limited.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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