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Legislative Changes to Improve the Access to Public Records

All Rhode Islanders share the common goal that government be open and accessible to the public. Democracy is built on the principle of transparent, open and accessible government, which is the key to maintaining the public’s trust of its elected officials. Recognizing the need to bring greater transparency and consistency to the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA), Attorney General Kilmartin drafted and submitted legislation to the Rhode Island Senate that advanced the APRA for the first time in more than a decade.

The legislation, submitted in the Senate on behalf of the Attorney General by Senator James C. Sheehan, significantly altered the individually identifiable exemption of the current statute, made more information public, provided that all public pension records are public records, provided greater protections for those requesting records and increased fines for public bodies that knowingly and willfully violate the law.

The legislation, passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor, was hailed by the media and open government advocacy groups as ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability for government in Rhode Island.

After its passage, Attorney General Kilmartin noted, “Government must be accountable to the people. The public has the right to know how government officials spend taxpayer dollars and make the decisions affecting their lives, and the reforms to APRA achieve this goal. Mark Twain, in the “Gilded Age: A Tale of Today” wrote, ‘No country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more.’ While Mark Twain penned that line close to 140 years ago, it still rings true today.”

With the bill signed into law, Attorney General Kilmartin once again hosted his “Open Government Summit” at Roger Williams University, where more than 500 elected officials and public employees learned how to comply with the APRA and the Open Meetings Act (OMA).

The Summit provided an explanation of the statutory requirements of APRA and OMA, 2011/2012 case law and legislative updates and examples of frequent trouble areas.

In addition to the Open Government Summit, staff from the Attorney General’s Open Government Unit fanned out across the state to provide smaller seminars to local municipalities and law enforcement officials.