Editorial: APRA fight has government protecting government

Posted 4/4/24

Committees in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Rhode Island Senate have listened to testimony on a bill that would update and improve the state’s public records law. …

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Editorial: APRA fight has government protecting government


Committees in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Rhode Island Senate have listened to testimony on a bill that would update and improve the state’s public records law. Officially known as the Access to Public Records Act, or APRA, this is a lengthy statute that gives citizens the right to inspect the documents and dealings of their government.

Though thoroughly complex, at its heart APRA sets a very simple standard: All the records of your government are available to you … unless there is a reason they should not be. The complexity lies within those ‘reasons they should not be.’

Release of certain records might undermine ongoing negotiations, invade a citizen’s personal privacy, or compromise a criminal investigation. Thus, those records can be withheld from the public.

The bill now before the General Assembly would update this critical law with a wide array of improvements. It would reflect advances in technology and record-keeping, codifying language around things like government emails, body-worn police cameras, and the digital storage of records and public meeting dockets. It would also close many loopholes that have been discovered since the last time it was updated more than a decade ago.

It would take most of a day to describe and debate every change contained within the new APRA bill. It is the result of a year and a half of meetings, compromises and revisions, led by a coalition of open government and good-government advocates.

The agencies supporting this bill include the League of Women Voters, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Rhode Island Press Association, Common Cause Rhode Island and the New England First Amendment Coalition. These are not radical groups attempting to bring down government. They are government watchdogs, representing the best interests of the people living in this great state.

Notably, the only opposition to this APRA bill in the last two years has come from government itself. So far, government lobbyists, government agency spokespeople, and government-funded associations like the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns have been the only ones objecting to a bill that would give citizens better access to their government.

Not a single member of the public has ever come forward to say they don’t want more access to government records.

The bill may very well die in committee yet again this year. If it does, government leaders and state legislators should be held accountable for the twisted demise of this important legislation. Consider this 800-foot view of the situation …

The government that is hired, empowered and funded by the people, is paying itself — with their money — to fight against a law that would make more of its own actions visible to the very people who have hired, empowered and paid them in the first place.

Does this seem like good government?

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.