Public Records Bill Gets Signature

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Vermonters now have a powerful incentive to go to court over public records request denials – government reimbursement of their legal fees if they win.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday signed into law a bill passed by the Legislature that advocates say will make public officials think twice about saying no to requests for public records.

The law changes existing public records statutes to say judges "shall" require reimbursement of plaintiffs who win their court challenges instead of "may." The measure contains a so-called "escape clause" that would exempt a public agency from paying if it agrees to release the records in the early stages of the court action.

It also establishes a panel to examine more than 200 exemptions written into the law since its adoption in 1976.

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