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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Try again for public access improvements"

Presenting a contrary view to that presented by the ILB in this March 17th post, re HB 1306, the bill which would have allowed governmental agencies to charge a $20/hour search fee for public record requests, Doug Ross of the NWI Times writes in an editorial today:

The Indiana General Assembly came close, but failed this year to pass a valuable new state law that would have improved public access to public records.

House Bill 1306 died in the conference committee when the House and Senate conferees failed to resolve differences between the two versions of the bill.

The most notable provision of HB 1306 would have let the citizen, rather than the government, decide in which format a public record, already in electronic form, would be provided.

There's no reason, other than spite or greed, to print out a spreadsheet or database and charge the citizen for each printed page.

Instead, let the citizen provide an email address, blank CD or flash drive and share the spreadsheet at no cost.

It is the public's record, not the government's record.

The legislation also would have allowed a citizen to use a cellphone camera to copy a public record that contains that person's name. That should be a no-brainer, too.

A third provision would have set rules for the cost of providing records that require an extensive search. After the first two hours, which are free, the person making the request could be asked to pay $20 or the hourly rate of the person conducting the search, whichever is less. That protects the public from unscrupulous requests for exorbitant amounts while compensating the government for exhaustive searches.

This standard is similar to the one set by the federal government's Freedom of Information Act.

The Hoosier State Press Association worked with House Speaker Brian Bosma to set this reasonable standard, HSPA Executive Director Steve Key said.

If it takes more than two hours of staff time to dig up the requested records, the citizen ought to expect to pay a small fee for that search time.

Even smarter, however, is to make smaller requests the first time and make additional requests as warranted. Instead of a shotgun approach, use a rifle. You can always ask for more documents later in a follow-up request, depending on what you uncover.

HB 1306 would have accomplished all this, had negotiations in the conference committee not broken down.

Next year, the the General Assembly should pass, and Gov. Mike Pence should sign, this same bill for the benefit of the Hoosier public.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 20, 2014 09:12 AM
Posted to Indiana Government