Ensure timely access to public records

Public officials constantly find new ways to deny the public access to government documents. A group of Ohio legislators wants to put more teeth in the state’s open records laws.

Among the group’s proposals is one to require that all local and state governments provide records within 20 days after a request for them. They also want to make it easier for Ohioans who win open records lawsuits to recover damages and attorney fees from government officials.

State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, put the situation succinctly. Too many government officials view access to public records as an “annoyance and privilege” rather than a right, he said.

Access to public records has become a complex matter in Ohio. A manual on the subject from Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office runs to more than 100 pages. Scores of exemptions are contained in state law.

But Buckeye State residents have a right to inspect records from local and state governments, as Lundy noted. Making that less susceptible to obstruction ought to be a priority for legislators, and enacting the new proposal would be a good start.