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Legislators Are Exempt From Public Records Laws — For Now

The Nevada State Assembly chambers.
Casey Morrel

The Nevada State Assembly chambers.

Nevada legislators make public records law, but it turns out they don’t have to follow it.

That could change during this legislative session. Senate Bill 170 would make the Nevada Legislature subject to public records laws, and would expand the kinds of information that can be requested.

But will legislators go for it? Will they pass a bill that exposes them to greater scrutiny?

The ACLU is supporting the bill and actively lobbying for it. The group's executive director told KNPR's State of Nevada that it takes issue with the idea that lawmakers are under a constitutional exemption.

“We take issue with that. We don’t agree. We don’t think that there’s a constitutional exemption,” Tod Story said, “We think we need to shed a little more sunshine on the Silver State and expand the open records law, the public records law and give the public more access to how laws are made here in the state.”

Story argues that people have a right to know who lawmakers are meeting with and with whom they're discussing policy. 

“We think that the legislature should be subject to public records law," he said, "The reason is: currently the public is left in the dark as to how these laws are made, who is lobbying for certain laws, who’s lobbying against certain laws.”

Lawmakers, including State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, have argued that allowing access to emails and calendars would expose very personal emails from constituents to public scrutiny.

Story agreed that personal information from constituents should be exempt from the public records law, but information about lobbyists and other groups working to influence lawmakers on policy should be available for scrutiny.  

“They are there to represent us and we deserve to have the information about what it is that representation means,” he said. 

The bill is titled the Silver State Sunshine Act and it will be introduced by St. Senator Tick Segerblom during National Sunshine Week in March.

Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.