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Monday, June 18, 2007

Tennessee May Be Getting an FOI Czar...

This just in from Tennessee:

The state is now looking for an expert on open records.

The budget that goes into effect in July includes $100,000 to hire an open records ombudsman, someone to help regular people get documents that are available under the state's Public Records Act.

Gov. Phil Bredesen first proposed creating the job more than a year ago to "level the playing field in allowing people who don't have access to expensive lawyers or don't have a lot of sophistication about the process of how you get that open record."

Money in the budget to create the position survived a late challenge from some Republicans and local government lobbyists who argued that the responsibilities and powers of the ombudsman were not clearly defined.

But the money was included in the final version of the budget, so now the state comptroller's office is drafting a job description and determining which qualifications will be considered necessary.

The Public Records Act says all state, county and municipal records are to be available for inspection by anyone _ unless the record is specifically exempt.

There are hundreds of exemptions in the law, including medical records, sensitive military documents and investigative records of theTennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Bredesen said he will push for quickly getting the ombudsman job up and running.

"It's something that I committed to members of the press that I would do," he said. "I think it's a good idea and we will get that moving along."

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