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New Report: OR Laws Fail “Government Integrity” Test

November 3, 2008

Portland, OR – Oregon has some work to do to make state government more open and accessible to the public, according to a new report. The state has received a failing grade - 49 percent out of 100 - in the new rankings by the nonprofit Better Government Association (BGA). Oregon came in 32nd in a state-by-state comparison of laws in five areas: open meetings, open records, conflict of interest, campaign finance and whistleblower protections.

Attorney Jack Orchard, with the Portland law firm Ball Janik, represents the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. He is surprised by the low marks and calls the state's open meetings law "the best in the country."

"Oregon is the only state that allows representatives of the news media to sit in on executive sessions of local government or state government, with a couple of exceptions. But generally speaking, the reporter has a right to be in the room."

Orchard suspects the low ranking might be because penalties for violating some of the Oregon laws are not tough enough to serve as deterrents. He also notes the legislature could do more to make the state's conflict of interest laws tougher. Conflicts of interest are perennial concerns in states like Oregon that have citizen legislatures and local lawmakers who often have other jobs in addition to their public service duties, he says.

"When you have other employment, it gets into the issue of what your background is and what your predispositions might be, versus privacy rights. It leads to conflict of interest issues being raised."

Overall, Orchard feels the BGA rankings were too tough. He says if he were handing out the grades, he would have given the state a "B - perhaps even a B+ - not an F."

The top five states in the ranking were Hawaii, Louisiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington.

The full report, the "BGA-Alper Integrity Index," is available at www.bettergov.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR