Legislation would require government to accept records requests via email

State Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville

State Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, has filed a bill that would end the practice of some government entities in Tennessee refusing to accept public records requests by email.

The legislation, which is being carried in the Senate by Mike Bell, R-Riceville, says that “Requests (to see public records) may be submitted by all official modes of communication, including in person, telephone, fax, email, or other electronic means.” If a request for copies is required to be in writing, citizens may submit a handwritten request or send a request by email or fill out a form, but the government entity has to provide the form “expeditiously.”

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville

The bill comes after a lawsuit, now in its third year, that arose when the Sumner County School District refused to recognize a request to inspect its public records policy because the request was made by email and by phone. The school district said all public records requests must be made in person or through the U.S. Postal Service. The requester, Ken Jakes, sued under the Tennessee Public Records Act and won at the trial level, but the Sumner County School Board voted to appeal the ruling. (Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has filed an amicus at the appellate level opposing local rules that create unreasonable obstacles in requesting public records.)

In a story by The Gallatin News, Rogers said “If a problem is an ambiguity in the law, then we should clarify the law and update it. Email is a normal mode of communication any more so we’re just updating the code so we don’t have issues.”

The bill is on the House State Government subcommittee schedule for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday next week.

What do you think?