Georgia House approves measure to free government agency records

ATLANTA - The Georgia House approved a slight change in state law Friday that sponsors said would make it more difficult for government agencies to withhold public documents.

The bill, which won unanimous approval, amends a single sentence in a section of the Georgia Code defining records that can legally be withheld.

State Rep. Jill Chambers, R-DeKalb, the bill's sponsor, said the change will make it more difficult for government agencies to refuse to hand over public documents by simply citing that they are agents of the federal government.

The statute currently says records can be withheld if they are "specifically required by the federal government to be kept confidential." The bill deletes the word "government," and replaces it with "statute or regulation."

Open records advocates were more reluctant to praise the measure. Hollie Manheimer, of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said "it is cause for the public's concern" because it could ultimately expand the scope of the existing exemption. She urged the Senate, where the bill now goes, to scrutinize the provision carefully.