The ACLU opposed SB 392, which extends a special exemption to the public records law for the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). This law allows OHSU to redact the names and home addresses of those involved in animal research.

The ACLU does not oppose redacting the home addresses of employees; Oregon law already allows for that. SB 392 goes further and allows exclusion of the identity of researchers and the companies that provide research animals to OHSU. We testified against SB 392 because we believe that access to public records should be preserved so that the media and public interest groups can sufficiently investigate and report on issues affecting the public. This is particularly important because public watchdog groups are adept at exposing abuses by public agencies. In some instances, watchdog groups provide the only protection against these abuses. The public has a right to know whether research that is done with taxpayer funds by OHSU is in compliance with federal standards aimed at avoiding animal abuse. In the past, public records have proved invaluable in exposing serious animal care issues at OHSU. This resulted in needed reforms at OHSU.

Despite concerns about the safety of OHSU researchers as the reason for the law, OHSU not only posts the names of many researchers on its website, but also their photographs. OHSU continues to contradict its public safety argument by posting this information online. Since the law was originally passed a number of years ago, OHSU has kept a log of how it handles public records requests. The log has shown that OHSU has abused the law and has instituted a policy that treats animal watchdog groups differently than the media, by restricting access by the former but allowing full access by the latter. Not surprisingly, despite media objections to other legislative efforts limiting public records disclosures, no media organizations testified in opposition to this law.

This year OHSU did not provide an updated log. Given its past practices, it is not unreasonable to believe that OHSU may be acting inconsistently with the Oregon public records law. When SB 392 was heard in the House, members of the General Government and Consumer Protection Committee requested that OHSU continue to keep a log of requests and present it to the legislature when the law comes up for renewal in four years.

As the vote below indicates, SB 392 passed the Senate and the House with only one “no” vote. After obtaining a two-year extension in 2009 (rather than the requested four-year extension) with instruction by legislators that OHSU convene discussions and explore modifications to address the concerns expressed by the ACLU, OHSU instead spent the last two years bringing legislators to its facility to introduce them to the primate center researchers. This appears to have been quite effective because there have been a number of legislators in the past that consistently voted against this law and yet this session voted in support. Only Rep. Mary Nolan (D-Portland) stood by the ACLU on this issue and voted “no.”

Senate: 29-0
House: 57-1
Scorecard Vote: Senate & House