Gov. Deal today signed a bill that will update the state's Open Records Act, legislation designed to incorporate court rulings, promote Georgia's economic competitiveness, provide clarity on the responsibilities of state and local governments and increase transparency for residents of the state.
"This bill will help bolster the state's ability to bring jobs to Georgia while simultaneously aiding the fundamental rights of the people to inspect the records of their government," Deal said. "Attorney General Sam Olens, Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) worked diligently over many months to enact needed changes, and we have a superior law now as a result."
Many key stakeholders worked closely on HB 397, including the Georgia Press Association, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the First Amendment Foundation, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association and many others.
"This legislation toughens enforcement of our Open Records law by substantially increasing penalties for noncompliance, allows for civil as well as criminal procedures and requires that all votes take place in a public forum," Deal said. "We have crafted a document that makes it easier for Georgians to keep track of their government's activities and to know their rights, and it clarifies the responsibilities of public officials."
Reforming the Open Records Act will help ensure economic development efforts made by state and business officials. These provisions regarding open records include exemptions for trade secrets along with records that would disrupt the receipt of federal funds. An important element to this bill includes the exemption of ongoing economic development project records maintained by the Department of Economic Development until a binding commitment is obtained.
"I worked closely with publishers from the Georgia Press Association, editors and others on the economic development portion of the bill. Together, we crafted compromise language that changes Open Records rules as it relates to economic development projects," Deal said. "Subjecting our negotiations to the Open Records law put us at a competitive disadvantage. This change will help us bring jobs to Georgia, and we struck the right balance in this compromise."
HB 397 will keep the state's sensitive information regarding economic activities confidential while ensuring that citizens' personal information is protected, respecting a right to privacy. No official business, formulation of new public policy or public matter will take place during these meetings, protecting citizen input and media coverage of the matters of the state.
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