Maintain N.D.’s open records

Senate Bill 2310 would make confidential almost all information contained in accident reports, including driver identification numbers, names, addresses and phone numbers.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Oehlke, R-Devils Lake, should not be approved, at least not in its current form.

We understand the concern over maintaining privacy for personal information, such as drivers license numbers, addresses and phone numbers. Under the bill, that information would be confidential to all but people involved in the crash or their legal representatives or insurers. But making even the names of those involved in accidents confidential will create new problems.

Newspapers and other forms of media rely on official accident reports from law enforcement to provide accurate, timely and useful information to the general public. The bill would essentially make accident reports useless to members of the media, and in turn, to the public. Without official information, the media’s ability to gather news will be severely hampered. No reputable news agency wants to rely on secondhand information when presenting news to the public.

Is there room for compromise? Absolutely. Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, asked if it would be possible to make drivers license information, addresses and phone numbers confidential, but leave names as open record. That’s a good place to start the discussion, but North Dakota has a strong history of maintaining open records, and we’re leery of attempts to change that. Once the process of keeping more information from the public, it’s a slippery slope.