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Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Transparency Law on Public Records

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled, in March, against the petitions of a government agency to withhold public records from journalists as they investigated reports of inappropriate behavior by an elected Clark County School District trustee.

The report, which details the efforts of the trustee in their re-election bid, was created by a public agency with public money. Because it was created using public funds by a public-sector agency, the report falls in the category of public records. However, the school district refused to comply with a public record request by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Journalists only triumphed because of the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) of 2019. This series of laws is designed to guarantee public access to all public records created by government bodies. Books and records of all government activities are stored and maintained by government agencies and can also be accessed on the government and Nevada State Records website. 

Not only does the act ensure transparency in all levels of government but it also aims to uphold the quintessential principles of democracy that allows public access to the books and records of a government entity.

Although the newspaper successfully sued and obtained the report before the election, it took on the significant cost of litigation, not just because it had the resources, but because of a provision within the NPRA that requires the government to reimburse the legal costs incurred by the requesting party if the public agency violated the law by withholding public records.

Without the provision for reimbursement, government agencies can theoretically withhold documents while exploiting the fact that few organizations will be able to pay tens of thousands of dollars to enforce the law in court.

Although many public agencies comply with the law without a court order, the system has a long way to go in ensuring total compliance with the Public Records Act even as the importance of enforcing government transparency cannot be overstated.