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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

State lawmakers say record retention policies need improvement

State Capitol, Helena
Jacob Baynham
Community News Service, UM School of Journalism
Montana Capitol. (Photo by Jacob Baynham, Community News Service, UM School of Journalism.)

A special committee of Montana lawmakers investigating the state’s judicial branch focused on the retention of public records during a meeting Wednesday. Lawmakers say public records problems exist across the state government.

Republican state lawmakers began criticizing the judicial branch’s policy for keeping track of public records after emails were deleted containing a poll on judges' views of proposed legislation, which lawmakers said revealed judicial bias on potential legal challenges of new laws.

Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin deleted the emails regarding the poll.

Now, nearly a year later, the Montana Supreme Court has adopted a new records retention policy and the Special Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency is looking at the issue more broadly.

Ray Dagnall with the Montana Secretary of State’s office is chair of the state records committee. He told lawmakers that it’s not feasible for his office to actively enforce record retention requirements for every employee, but retention of public records is required by Montana’s Constitution.

“You know, we run into a lot of issues in terms of how the best way is to retain emails. And you will find that there are multiple ways you can do it properly,” he says.

Dagnall said the committee is still working on developing a set procedure for emails.

Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over the inquiry into the judicial branch, but generally agreed on Wednesday that record retention policies need improvement across the board at state agencies.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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