As Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee considers the revisions to the Access to Public Records Act that the General Assembly has sent to his desk, he should remember his campaign plank to crack down on corruption and then sign this latest version of the ARPA. Simply, this first updating of public-records law in more than a dozen years is a key step toward a more transparent and just society.
There are many improvements in this new version of the law, not the least of which are features that would help cut down on the likelihood that sweetheart deals can be made for well-connected individuals.
But perhaps the biggest change to the current law is the addition of a “balancing test” to weigh the public’s right to see documents that are not already public against an individual’s right to privacy.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont all use a balancing test for these public-records situations. And since the test is modeled on the federal Freedom of Information Act, there is a significant body of case law to help guide the state in its decision-making process.
The governor, through a spokeswoman, has let it be known that the balancing test is a problem, and that he may veto the legislation. That would be a mistake.
Common Cause, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Rhode Island Press Association (editor’s note, PBN Editor Mark S. Murphy is the current president of RIPA) all have endorsed the new version of the APRA, because, while not perfect, it promises to open to the public more of the workings of government. And by definition, that is a good thing. •