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Nevada Legislators Exempt From Public Records Law

Ken Lund/Flickr

The ability to access public records is an essential tool in a democracy.

Public records give the public a peek at truths that are sometimes never told during public meetings. But, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau of Nevada, Nevada’s legislators are exempt from certain public records requests.

The Associated Press reportedthat a request for emails from four legislators was denied by the state Legislative Counsel Bureau. It took the Bureau 28 pages to explain its rationale.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau also denied a request by KNPR to be interviewed for this story.

Tod Story, the executive director of the Nevada ACLU, told KNPR's State of Nevada that the law has been around for several years but was restricted in 2015.

“At this point, they have what amounts to almost a blanket exemption and that is revealed in this letter that was sent to the AP,” Story said.

He said legislators do not have to provide anything they don't want to provide.

“We think they should be held just as accountable as every other government agency in Nevada and we think the best way for the Legislature to operate is to be open and transparent about the work that is going on there,” he said. 

The exemption is only for the Legislature not for local government officials and it applies to the media and the general public.

"The problem we have with the law as written is that the public and the media both cannot get the information we think is relevant when looking at how laws in Nevada are passed, how they might be made, and how the public can be involved in that process,” Story said.

Story also disagrees with the counsel bureau's rationale that the Legislature is not a "government entity"

"If it's not a governmental entity, I don’t know what is," he said.

Story does believe there should be some restrictions on open record laws, including personal communications between the counsel bureau and a lawmaker or a lawmaker and his or her staff.

“What we don’t understand is every conversation, every appointment, every email that is sent is some how exempt from public scrutiny and review,” he said.

Story believes there is a balance to be found in what the media or the public can ask for and what a lawmaker can keep confidential.

The ACLU is not alone in it's belief that the exemption needs to be revisited.

According to the Associated Press, several Nevada lawmakers think the open record law exemptions are too broad.

Republican Assemblyman David Gardner told the AP that, "a blanket block on anything seems a little heavy-handed."

Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, who voted for the bill, now says "I think that if I knew it would be used to shield lawmakers from legislative inquiry, I never would have entrusted them with it."

However, on KNPR's State of Nevada State Sen. Aaron Ford supported the idea saying that legislators often receive very personal emails and letters from constituents who wouldn't want that information made public. 

Tod Story believes groups opposed to the exemption should work on changing the law's language during next year's legislative session. 

Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.