Mississippi open records bills move forward in legislature

Amy Harder | Freedom of Information | Feature | March 3, 2008

Two bills that would strengthen the Mississippi open records law are moving forward in the legislature, with law enforcement agencies and open government advocacy groups coming to long-awaited compromises.

HB 474, dealing with police incident reports, has passed the state House and will now go to the state Senate for further debate. SB 2728, which would put the state Ethics Commission into an official ombudsman position, passed the state Senate and is headed toward the state House.

Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association, said the chances of both bills passing in each of the other chambers are good.

“We think it’s a fair and workable compromise that will make records more open and available to the public,” Bruce said.

HB 474 would require all law enforcement agencies to make incident reports available to the public once an investigation is complete. Although these reports are technically public information, no requirement exists under Mississippi law that states agencies must release them in any routine fashion.

“I think it’s going to help law enforcement agencies know exactly what is public information,” Bruce said. “They’re going to know what they can release; to know what they have to release.”

SB 2728 would create an intermediary step between filing a records request and having to file suit in a case in which an agency ignores or creates unnecessary delays in issuing a response. The state ethics commission would act as the mediator between the government and information requesters.