Haile seeks open government assistance with effort to block ‘malicious’ records requests

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. From left are Sens. Mark Norris, Randy McNally, Bo Watson and Ferrell Haile. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) is asking for help from the Tennessee Advisory Council on Open Government to craft legislation aimed at blocking abusive public records requests. Haile has introduced a bill aimed at accomplishing that goal, but his efforts have foundered amid concerns that a new law would also affect the ability of citizens, the media, and researchers to obtain public records.

Here is the full release from Haile:

NASHVILLE – Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) said today he has asked the Tennessee Advisory Council on Open Government to review legislation he is sponsoring to discourage malicious abuse of Tennessee’s public records requests process. Haile sponsored legislation during the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly to curtail the practice and plans to reintroduce it when the legislature convenes in January.

He is asking for the Council’s input to protect the integrity of Tennessee’s open record law, while preventing repeated abuse when requests serve no purpose other than to harass local governments and their employees.

“We need open government and this legislation is not intended in any way to interfere with our public records request process or to discourage such requests,” said Senator Haile. “This legislation is about the few people who abuse our public record laws to bully and harass government agencies by repeatedly making requests that any reasonable person would deem has no purpose except for harassment. The legislation will have no effect on other citizens. Also, media outlets, academic researchers, investigators, or those independently engaged in gathering information for publication or broadcast are exempt from provisions of the bill.”

The legislation allows a records custodian to seek an injunction against an individual who makes six or more requests that constitutes harassment within a one-year period after providing the requestor with notice after the fifth such request. Harassment is defined as conduct that is not made for any legitimate purpose and is made maliciously or seriously abuses, intimidates, threatens, or harasses. The public records custodian must petition the court in such cases in the appropriate jurisdiction for an order enjoining the person from making further requests. A court can find that an individual’s record request constitutes harassment and enjoin a person from requesting records for up to a year.

A records custodian who petitions a court for an injunction must also provide a written report to the Office of Open Records Counsel that includes a copy of the petition and any injunction or orders issued by the court. It will also become part of the Counsel’s annual report to further track these cases and ensure the integrity of the state’s open records law remains in tact. The measure will sunset in 2024 when it will be reevaluated for that purpose.

“Honest inquires are what our open records law is meant to protect,” added Haile. “The proposal is not meant to discourage citizens from requesting information, nor is it intended for a county attorney or city attorney to use this against folks who are irritated with someone or upset with some aspect of their government. This is a positive appeal that will help those who seek to have open government and it will help prevent abuse of those who utilize our public records process as a tool to harass those who work for us.”

9 Responses to Haile seeks open government assistance with effort to block ‘malicious’ records requests

  • Avatar
    Norma says:

    Call it what you will, it’s still an effort to intimidate political opponents and hide information from taxpayers. If a request for public records were truly “malicious” the public records holder could obtain a court order to enjoin the request. But that would require proving to a judge that the request is “malicious”, a burden that would be hard to prove when we’re dealing with public records. It begs the question: What unfortunate truths is this legislator afraid will leak out?

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    Beatrice Shaw says:

    This is why REPUBLICANS are going to lose so badly this year and why we will finally get GOOD government. A government that will respect life, be color neutral and citizen friendly, Closing records to anyone…ESPECIALLY the public and media is criminal. Astute citizens are great watchdogs. The media is under attack for their attempts to show what is really going on in this country. This law should not pass!!!

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      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Can’t you feel it Beatrice? It’s slipping away. The senile old man and his unattractive running mate, the leftist stormtroopers, the deranged over the top Trump hatred all add up to four more years of Trump because the Democrats leave normal Americans no other choice.

      • Avatar
        Jonathan Swift says:

        You had me going for a while when you said “The senile old man and his unattractive running mate.” I thought you were describing the Republican ticket.

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    David Collins says:

    We (the taxpayers) paid for the records and we should be able to access them and get copies without being made to jump through hoops to do so. Norma is correct in that if someone is “maliciously” hounding a government agency for copies of records over time solely for the purpose of harassment then a pattern should emerge that the agency could use in court to make its case for some sort of injunctive relief. That will still be a high burden (and should be) for any agency to get over, but such ultimate decision should be left to an impartial tribunal rather than someone in an agency who might just be the person with something to hide. Someone please table this bill.

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    LeeAnn C. says:

    Did anyone read the particulars before spouting off? Somewhere is the back story to put this proposed legislation in perspective. In the ten years we’ve lived in TN, I petitioned for records from our logical government ONCE. Who the heck is harassing a local government, likely functioning with minimal staff, with more than 6 open records requests in a year? If you’ve been involved in a lawsuit, you know how requests for copies of documents can be harassment, rather than genuine information seeking. Pay attention before assigning motivations to someone seeking the resolve a problem!

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    More of the same old “republicans want absolute control.” If WE say so, you can do that but you must clear that with with us first, WE set the rules. It is the Big Brother syndrome. It is the same with voter suppression, they want to control the voting. Let’s just all hope that enough of the population has become fed up with the out-of-control Republican sneaky, dirty politics and votes for change. It might be hard in Tennessee but the country seems ready for a change. The Republicans are wedded to these types of deceptions and just hope the public will continue to fall for such political nonsense. There is a reason why Republicans are jumping ship in large numbers.

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    Beatrice Shaw says:

    I’d bet that Senator is a Trump supporter too. Article left that out but…..

  • Avatar
    steve cates says:

    We do not need more secrecy in government!!! STOP this legislation!!

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