Cheese holes best filled one at a time

Published 11:54 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mississippi’s open records law is a bit like a baseball bat made of Swiss cheese — it’s riddled with holes and thus relatively harmless if you were to get hit by it.

The slow grinding wheels of state government came a little closer to plugging a couple of tiny holes in the bat recently though.

Two different bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — would begin to bolster the state’s weak public records laws.

Email newsletter signup

House Bill 1048 would revise and limit the fees that any public body can charge for providing copies of records.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Bill 2921 contains similar language, but goes further by revising the maximum waiting period an agency can make a requestor wait.

Currently, an agency can — if they have a written policy to this effect — delay the request for up to 14 working days. The new Senate measure would cut that to seven days.

Both measures appear to be good by stiffening the bat that’s given to the people to keep watch on government.

However, neither measure addresses the biggest problem the open records law continues to have — a serious lack of teeth.

At present, if an agency refuses to provide the public document, the only recourse for a citizen is to file a lawsuit. And even then the law only allows $100 in penalty if the person is found guilty. Many of our children have phones or iPods worth more than that.

One day — soon, we hope — Mississippi will get serious about making its public records law meaningful. Until then we’re happy to have another small cheese hole filled.