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Governor should release proposed legislation

For all the talk from Gov. Kate Brown of supporting government openness and transparency, she seems to hope to be addressed as Gov. Openness. Yet, there’s another example of her failing to live up to her talk.

Brown is denying the public access to legislation state agencies plan for the 2019 session until after the November election is over. The records should be made public now.

State agencies send proposed legislation to the governor’s office every year before the legislative session. The state has what are called legislative concept approval forms. The forms require agencies to identify a problem and explain how a change in the law would fix it. The governor’s office reviews them and can turn them down.

Such forms were submitted in the past to change the age of compulsory education from age 7 to age 5. There was one to change health insurance for inmates. There was another to limit information to the public in some state databases.

That’s important public business that the public has a right to know. And in the past, they have been provided to members of the public.

This year, with Brown up for election, the policy for releasing such records has changed. There are new instructions sent to agencies about the forms: “Although it is expected that agencies will have discussed legislative concept ideas with stakeholders, agencies are directed to treat this document as confidential and privileged and, accordingly, not to share the text of this form outside of state government before legislation is drafted and finalized.”

That will be after the election. Does that make any sense at all except to hide what the government is doing from the public?

Portland business lawyer Greg Chaimov is suing the state to compel the state to release the records. We should disclose that Chaimov is an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine, which has represented The Bulletin. The issue, though, is not about who is suing. It is about when the government should make records public.

The state is claiming that release of the records now violates attorney-client privilege. That decision was upheld by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Is that so? State agencies are forming critical policies to change state law. In many cases, as the state admits, it has publicly discussed its legislative concepts. And now, when an agency proposes an idea to the governor, it suddenly becomes top secret?

Knowing what proposed legislation a governor rejects and what he or she allows to proceed tells Oregonians important information about the governor.

Gov. Openness should not be trying to delay disclosure. She should be expediting it. Release the records. Now.

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