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Oregon Legislative Hearing Minutes: A Reminder

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In these opening days of the 2011 Oregon Legislative Session, a reminder is in order, especially for people who know they will likely have to compile a legislative history one of these days:

Public records laws, open secrets policies, public meetings laws are all well and good – and you can see Oregon’s Public Records and Public Meetings Manuals posted at the Department of Justice website – but what do you do if you need a legislative history of a law, including its public hearings?

People use their public law libraries and the State Archives (in Salem) every day to research legislative histories of Oregon laws.

But if you want to see the Minutes to speed up the process, think again.

Back in 2008, the legislature, for budget reasons, stopped recording minutes of legislative hearings. Legislative Administration ran all the numbers and the cost of recording Minutes (by the Legislature) was just not sustainable. So, the costs shift to the people who need to research legislative histories, e.g. advocacy groups, nonprofits, and people who hire lawyers.

This seems like a small matter, and it is most of the time, but, the full force and effect of such a policy may not be clear until:

It is YOUR attorney who needs to find the legislative history, and intent, and the only record of what was said in the public hearing is on audio-tape. So, it might now take 4 hours of billable time rather than 1 hour. Or, how do you include an audio clip in your appellate brief? Do you get the hearing transcribed? How do you do that in a manner that is acceptable to both sides of the dispute? Do both sides have to pay or witness the transcription? Who pays for the transcription and the authentication? Under what conditions will the court accept a transcript? Would a court reporter do the transcription? If so, who pays for it?

What if you are just an interested Oregonian who wants to understand what a particular law means? You, too, can listen to that hearing, assuming you have a computer.

These and similar questions arise with all kinds of litigation or research — maybe a land use case, a personal injury case, or a criminal case — so they aren’t really new questions. But make sure you take the extra research or lawyer time into account when you need legislative history.