During the last couple weeks of the legislative session, the Nebraska Legislature passed two bills that seek to increase the accountability and transparency of Nebraska’s state government. While these bills haven’t received as much public attention as some other bills, we wanted to highlight them because we think they will go a long way to make the system more fair.
First, LB 242 amends Nebraska’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which establishes minimum procedures for state agencies to follow when making rules or regulations. The purpose of the APA is to allow the general public to have notice of and a chance to be heard on regulations before they go into effect. LB 242 allows the Public Counsel to investigate allegations that an administrative agency has improperly enforced rules or regulations. Unfortunately, Appleseed has seen instances in which policies affecting individual rights have been enforced by state agencies without going through this important process. We believe this new law will improve transparency and accountability in the rulemaking process.
Second, LB 363 amends Nebraska’s Open Records Act, which allows members of the public to request and examine records from public entities, including counties and state agencies. The main provision of LB 363 will exempt payment charges for the first four hours of a public employees’ time spent responding to a request for public records. We are aware of instances in which a government agency has responded to a records request claiming that it would cost upwards of $1,000 to respond to the request. Costs like this can make it too expensive for most people to access public records. We believe this bill will help reduce unnecessary administrative costs that often can discourage the disclosure of public records and will lead to more transparent and accountable government action.