A big part of our work at the Outdoor Council involves tracking the actions our representative government makes on behalf of its citizens. Often, that includes asking for public records not readily available or published for broad public access.
Citizens have the right to know about activities that affect public health, including the water we use and air we breathe, as well as the myriad decisions that affect land and wildlife management in Wyoming. That’s why we’re taking a stand against an ill-conceived state policy to charge fees for public records requests.
The fee structure, created and promoted by the Wyoming Department of Information and Administration (A&I), misses the intent of a state law passed in 2014 to “streamline” responses to records requests. We believe that providing public records and governing transparently is not an “add-on” to the job of the government that citizens should have to pay for. It is a core duty of our state government. We already cover the cost to produce public records with our taxpayer dollars dedicated to support state agencies.
Understanding that a fee-for-access policy only serves to deter citizens from taking part in civic matters, we have joined with dozens of partners to push back against A&I’s flawed policy. At the same time, we are encouraging a broader discussion to find solutions that can help state agencies more efficiently respond to records requests.
To begin the discussion, the Outdoor Council published this op-ed in local media outlets.
We are encouraged that the legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee has agreed to take on the topic this year, and we will keep you up-to-date as the discussion progresses.
Wyoming’s fee-for-access scheme is not the only policy being pursued to distance citizens from our government’s actions. Rep. Liz Cheney has introduced a bill to slap fees on citizens who participate in BLM’s oil and gas leasing decision-making processes on public lands. An effort continues at the Wyoming Legislature to criminalize protests against so-called “critical infrastructure,” and tactics to transfer the ownership and/or management of public lands continues. These are part of a broader trend to extract citizens from our public lands heritage and to insert the Trump administration’s mandate for “energy dominance” in the West.
But we don’t have to — and must not — cede our democratic institutions and values to realize robust economies. The Wyoming-led sage grouse management plan for the West (now also under attack) is proof that bipartisan, multi-stakeholder efforts can help sustain energy, agriculture and our wildlife heritage far into the future regardless of politics. Efforts to derail robust citizen participation will fail — but only with your help.
Thank you for your continued work to help protect Wyoming’s world-class wildlife, our open spaces, clean air and water, and for joining us in demanding a government responsive to its citizens.