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Barbour signs public records bill

JACKSON — Open-government advocates hope a new law will give people quicker access to most public records in Mississippi.

Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill yesterday that says, starting July 1, government entities will be required to respond to records requests within seven working days rather than the current 14.

For complex requests, the government could notify the person seeking the records that at least 14 working days would be needed.

Jeanni Atkins, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, said that with a response time of 14 working days, it often takes three weeks for people to receive even an acknowledgment of their requests for records from city, county or state governments.

Democratic Rep. David Norquist of Cleveland sponsored the bill, which also originally sought to limit the costs of copying public records by specifying the lowest-paid staff person who’s qualified to fill a request should do so. That provision was removed.

Some news organizations and citizens in the state have received bills for thousands of dollars for records that are compiled by attorneys.

“We’ll come back next year and continue with our quest to try to deal with the cost of it,” Norquist said.

Common Cause Mississippi, MCFOI and the Mississippi Press Association were among those pushing for a quicker response time. There was little overt lobbying against the change.

Mississippi has had one of the slowest public-records response times among states that set a deadline. In seven states, including Arkansas and Louisiana, officials must respond within three days.

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