POLSON – The Montana Legislature is replacing its current email system with one that is expected to make it easier to comply with open records requests.
The new email has an automatic archive system that will retain legislators’ emails for five years after their terms end to comply with state law, the Missoulian reports .
Lee Newspapers of Montana reported in January 2017 that state employee emails were not being stored in the state archives.
Todd Everts, legal director of the state’s Legislative Services Division, noted a lawsuit was filed against the division and Republican Sen. Jennifer Fielder a year ago by the ethics group Campaign for Accountability, after the division and Fielder failed to release records that had been requested.
“Don’t forget, this is public email; it’s not really ours,” Republican Sen. Fred Thomas of Hamilton said Thursday during a Legislative Council meeting in Polson, noting changes should have been made long before now.
“It is public data, state data, these emails we do as public officials,” he said. “The law says we have to track this, so if we have a good system, a solid system … which we don’t have today, we will use it more and it will therefore collect and keep more public information as it should be.”
Susan Fox, executive director of the Legislative Services Division, said that if lawmakers choose not to use the new system they are still responsible for retaining email messages about state business so they are available under the Montana Open Records Act.
“We want to encourage that so if we get a public information request, especially since the litigation . we can go through everything you have,” Fox said. “This will make it easier for us to do a search.”
The new system will have additional storage, will eliminate the need to change a password every 60 days and will cost just under $12,000 a year for the next three years. The current system would have cost $54,000 a year by 2020.
Currently about 100 of the state’s 150 lawmakers use the state email system.
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