North Dakota House upholds anonymous public records requests

Legislators overwhelmingly voted down a bill that would have required names, addresses and contact information to be attached to open records requests.

North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, poses for a photo in front of the House chamber on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House has killed a bill that would have required residents to give their name, address and contact information to government agencies if they wanted to obtain public documents.

In a 86-7 vote, legislators on Wednesday, Feb. 8, gave House Bill 1198 the red light, following the recommendations of the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee to not pass the proposed legislation. The bill will not move on to the Senate.

North Dakota House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, introduced the bill after hearing reports that government agencies, particularly in the North Dakota University System, were being burdened by anonymous open records requests. Government employees in North Dakota cannot ask for a requester's name or about what the records will be used for.

Lefor previously told The Forum the law has been abused. His bill would have allowed government agencies to ignore anonymous requests.

Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, said the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee sympathized with government employees in understaffed departments who receive large amounts of open records requests. Transparency, openness and the public's right to open records outweighed potential abuse, she said.


Opponents of the bill voiced concerns about investigative reporters being denied documents if a government agency knew how they would be used. Schneider also noted potential retaliation against whistleblowers.

She spoke on the House floor as a representative of the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee in carrying the bill to the main chamber. She was the only speaker on the bill before the vote was cast.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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