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Maine public records bill opposed by media reps

February 23, 2012
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AUGUSTA, Maine—Maine open records advocates, including news media representatives, took issue Thursday with a bill they said would weaken the state's public records law by allowing the governor to keep more written records private.

The bill reviewed by the Judiciary Committee would create an exception in Maine's public records law for proposed legislation, reports and working papers of the governor and the governor's office. It creates a parallel to the Legislature's public records exception in existing law.

The legislation says reports and working papers of the governor's office would not become public records until they are publicly distributed or a legislature adjourns.

Michael Cianchette, Gov. Paul LePage's deputy legal counsel, defended the bill, which incorporates recommendations of the Right to Know Advisory Committee's majority. The committee advises lawmakers on changes and updates it sees as appropriate in Maine's public records law. The panel includes representatives of government, legal, media, civil liberties and the public.

Cianchette, who serves on the advisory panel, said the bill merely extends to the executive branch exemptions already granted by statute to the legislative branch and by inference to the courts. Under the current law, "every scrap" of written information generated in the governor's office is subject to public review "even before the ink is dry," he said.

Representing the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, Mal Leary of Capitol News Service said the bill would put Maine "far outside the norm" for access to records of governors. Leary said most states do not provide any separate exception for governors.

"The best government is one that is open and transparent to its citizens," said Leary. "After all, these all are the public's documents, records of their government."

The Maine Press Association, which represents 40 weekly and daily newspapers, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause and others in opposing the bill.

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