ferrell haile

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.”