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Editorial: 2010 session brings changes for newspapers

After a grueling 2010 legislative session, DFLers and Republicans came up with a solution to balance the budget.

Beyond a balanced budget legislators also enacted an important freedom of information initiative that is good news for newspapers.

A new procedure will be enacted for enforcing requirements of the Data Practices Act. In the past it has been difficult to enforce open record laws because the only option was too expensive for many newspapers. Litigation in district court was not a feasible option for most small newspapers.

The new law passed this session, Chapter 297, has created a positive alternative to the slow litigation process. With the new law, enforcement actions will be authorized through the state Office of Administrative Hearings and be heard by administrative law judges.

The new procedure will be available beginning July 1.

Other notable public information issues were brought to the table as well during the 2010 session.

A bill that was promoted by the state Information Policy Analysis Division would have clarified parts of the Open Meeting Law. This bill, however, didn't come to pass.

It proposed some Open Meeting Law revisions that would have helped make the law a bit easier to understand and apply. But, according to the Minnesota Newspaper Association, near the end of the session, a controversial amendment was added relating to the complex issue of when advisory committees reporting to public bodies are subject to the Open Meeting Law.

It didn't receive approval in the end because of this amendment.

Another public access issue did get resolved before the session ended Monday.

The bill deals with gang strike force issues. It calls for a work group to study the issues with "criminal intelligence databases." It has been a controversial topic recently with the Minneapolis task force. The bill says a representative designated by the Minnesota Newspaper Association will be a part of the work group.

Although it was a messy session, it ended well. Newspapers, in particular, should benefit from the new way to enforce the Open Meeting Law.