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Public records belong to West Virginians

A year ago, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, gave the best argument for making all government records available to all members of the public.

"The documents, memoranda and letters that are created with taxpayer dollars in taxpayer offices by people who are paid by the taxpayers should be open to the public," Armstead said.

There is no better way to put it.

Armstead failed last year to persuade legislators to open all records - with few exceptions for privacy and like concerns - to the public.

But Armstead and 10 co-sponsors are back again this year with House Bill 2884 that would make West

Virginia's Freedom of Information Act truly free.

The major thrust of this bill is to add to state code these words: "There is a presumption of public accessibility to all public records subject only to exemptions."

This is a profound and welcome change in the attitude to public records. Government officials no longer could act as if they own government documents.

Of course medical records, documents related to pending criminal cases and the like would be protected from prying eyes. There are legitimate reasons to temporarily protect some information.

But the bill makes it very clear that these records are paid for by the public, generated by the public's employees and owned by the public.

"To me, it's very important citizens be able to get

information about what state government is doing," Armstead told the Daily Mail's Zack Harold.

"We don't think something should be exempt from public disclosure just because it's in the form of a letter or a memorandum."

Armstead said that in other states, documents are presumed to be public information unless specifically excluded. West Virginia law currently runs in the opposite direction.

Lawmakers should have no problem passing this bill this year.


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