Iowa Looks at Its Open Records Laws

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(AP) Leaders of a legislative oversight committee said they’ll summon representatives of the state’s newspaper industry and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to determine if changes are needed in the state’s open records laws.

Sen. Mary Lundby, R-Marion, said she planned on asking those officials to appear “in the next few weeks” to get a statewide view of the issue, with an eye toward public access to police records.

“I think that would be the right way to go,” said Sen. Michael Connolly, D-Dubuque. “I think these are organizations that represent everybody in this business.”

The move came after members of the Government Oversight Committee, a joint House-Senate panel that oversees the bureaucracy, yesterday grilled Department of Public Safety head Kevin Techau about a controversy over access to reports from the Iowa Highway Patrol.

Sparking part of the controversy was an interview Techau gave to the Des Moines Register about complaints over the newspaper’s access to records during which Techau suggested the newspaper or its parent company could donate money as part of an effort to modernize record keeping.

With Highway Patrol troopers scattered across the state, quickly keeping tabs on paper records of incidents is difficult, Techau said.

“A high-tech solution would be expensive” and beyond the agency’s current budget, Techau said. He rejected suggestions that he was soliciting money to change access policy, arguing that the attorney general’s office has assured him that the agency is following the requirements of the open records law.

“This was not an issue that had been identified to me as a complaint,” he said. “The attorney general’s office has advised me that we are in compliance.”

He said his office gets about 1,700 media requests a year, roughly half going to the Highway Patrol.

There was no suggestion that state policy could be changed in exchange for a contribution, he said, arguing he expressed himself poorly.

“I regret the misunderstanding and my failure to communicate that properly,” he said.

Techau said officials were working on a way to streamline the reporting procedures, and he expected to have that new system in place within 45 days.

Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, said he was drafting legislation prohibiting state officials from soliciting money in exchange for altering policy.

“This is an area where I think common sense should prevail,” said Raecker.

Techau said he had a separate meeting planned with the Freedom of Information Council to discuss access issues.

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