The State of Oregon has a long tradition of extensive public participation in state and local government. The initiative, recall and referendum were all born in Oregon in 1902, introduced by W. S. U'Ren. Oregon's modern open government era began in 1973 with the passage of the Oregon Public Records Law and its companion law, the Oregon Public Meetings Law. The statutes are found in Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 192.410 - 192.505 (Public Records) and ORS 192.610 - 192.710 (Open Meetings) (all ORS references are to the 2009 Edition). The impetus for enactment of the records and meetings statutes came from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and a dedicated core of legislators who agreed that these issues should be handled comprehensively rather than on a case-by-case approach. They created a statutory scheme granting citizens and media representatives extensive access to the affairs of government. Introductory statements directing openness are found in both the Public Records and Public Meetings Laws. Withholding and closure are always the exceptions. Statutory exemptions to disclosure are always to be strictly construed.

The State Department of Justice has played a central role in interpreting the Public Records and Meetings statutes and in aiding in their enforcement. The Attorney General publishes an updated Public Records and Meetings Manual ("Manual") every two years. It serves as a useful desk reference for many records and meetings questions. The Manual contains a review of all public records and public meetings statutes and an index and summary of Attorney General opinions. It also includes valuable commentary, including opinions about commonly raised questions. References to the Manual in the following discussion of the statutes are to the January 2011 version. The Manual is available online at no cost through the Oregon Department of Justice at Printed copies are available for purchase by calling 503-378-2992. We strongly recommend consulting the Manual on every Oregon public records or public meetings issue.

Largely as a result of heightened public and media awareness about the Public Records and Meetings Laws, political and commercial special interests have routinely sought legislative help in curtailing access to certain types of records and proceedings considered to be proprietary, private or of a sensitive economic or personal nature. This has resulted in a variety of statutes found outside the public Records and Public Meetings Laws which contain disclosure restrictions.

A number of things remain to be wished for with regard to open government in Oregon. The cost of obtaining records has escalated and made some important searches prohibitive. On occasion, it appears that a public body purposefully adds to costs, for example by insisting that a highly paid staff person look over the shoulder of someone examining files which previously had been examined without supervision, with the searcher incurring the full hourly costs of that employee, including overhead and benefits. Moreover, the law on fee waivers for matters truly in the public interest is weak. Oregon could also use an ombudsman with expertise in public records and public meetings, who might more efficiently, quickly and consistently resolve disputes. Appeals of public records litigation can take years; they should be expedited, like mandamus proceedings. More teeth could be added for enforcing the Public Meetings Law and pursuing violations. But with all of these concerns, which may be the subject of future legislation, the operations of both the Public Records Law and the Public Meetings Law seem by and large to be adapting slowly but surely to the 21st century.