Policy lets legislators decide on records releases

JUNEAU — Legislative policy leaves Alaska state lawmakers the discretion to decide whether they want to release information from their own records. That stands in contrast to the rules concerning records in the governor’s office.

As part of a national project, The Associated Press requested the daily calendars and emails of four top state legislative leaders for the week of Feb. 1 through Feb. 7. The goal was to understand what the rules are in each state — what is releasable and what is not.

In Alaska, the requests were sent to Senate President Kevin Meyer, House Speaker Mike Chenault, Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner and House Minority Leader Chris Tuck. The same request also was sent to Gov. Bill Walker’s office.

Meyer, R-Alaska, provided a copy of his calendar and allowed a reporter to look over an aide’s shoulder to see how his email inbox is sorted. Meyer said he didn’t have a problem with characterizing the nature of the emails he received but said confidentiality is also important.

“People send us an email and they think we’re going to keep it to ourselves and we try to do that as much as we can,” he said. “But on the other hand, this is state property.”

Gardner and Tuck, both Anchorage Democrats, responded by providing the legislative policy. Chenault, R-Nikiski, ultimately requested an opinion from the legislature’s top attorney on the disclosure rules. Chenault cited confidentiality concerns with the emails, too, saying they can contain private constituent issues.

The attorney, Doug Gardner, said the short answer to whether calendars or emails sent or received by a legislator are public records available for disclosure is no.

He noted legislative policy that says that a legislator’s records, while in that legislator’s possession, are not public records based on deliberative process privilege and a constitutional provision of legislative immunity. The records’ policy, however, allows each legislator, at his or her discretion, to choose whether to release information from their records.

Walker’s office provided a copy of his calendar and was winnowing down the initial request for emails to search terms requested by the AP. The initial search turned up more than 1,000 pages, according to Angela Hull, the public records specialist for Walker’s office.

State regulations set out a timeline of 10 working days for executive branch agencies to respond to records requests.

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