This week the VT-ACLU, Human Rights Defense Center, New England First Amendment Coalition, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos went before the Vermont Supreme Court to argue that records for health care provided to Vermont prisoners are public records.
The state paid almost $100 million to Correct Care Solutions from 2010-2015. The company says it is not subject to Vermont’s public records act because it is a private organization. Correct Care won a lower court ruling which agreed with that sentiment. A Washington County Superior Court Judge said the decision to include private companies rests with the legislature, rather than the courts.
The ACLU argues that if a company is doing the work of a governmental agency, on the government’s dime, then the public has a right to know how it’s doing. This goes to the heart of public record law - accountability.
“The PRA’s purposes cannot be achieved if agencies can outsource their core responsibilities—but not their accountability to the public—to private entities,” the groups write in their brief. “This Court would not be staking out a novel or unusual position in interpreting the PRA to encompass private entities when and to the extent that they are acting as the functional equivalent of the government. Courts around the country have done the same when determining how to harmonize a legislative command of liberal construction with a public records act that does not mention private or quasi-public entities.”
We wholeheartedly agree. A private company that takes $94 million from taxpayers should not reasonably expect to be able to operate in secret.
“The common-sense conclusion of these courts (among others)—when the government contracts with an external entity to step into its shoes in performing its essential functions, that entity must be subject to the public records law,” the ACLU writes.
Amen. Otherwise, the state could avoid any and all transparency, oversight and accountability simply by outsourcing all services. In that scenario, taxpayers would never again have any clue how their money was being spent.