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Monday, February 27, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Should you have to pay $20 an hour for a public records search?"

Supplementing this ILB post from Feb. 20th, the South Bend Tribune editorialized this weekend:

Sometimes a bad idea in the Indiana General Assembly is defeated, never to be heard from again.

And then there’s House Bill 1523.

The measure, an assault on the public’s right to know, would allow state and local governments to charge up to $20 an hour for public record searches. The fees would apply when government officials spend more than two hours searching for a record requested by journalists or members of the public. In short, it would weaken Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

The measure passed in the House 62-25 and moves to the Senate.

This isn’t the first go-round for this particular bad idea. Legislators passed a similar measure in 2015. At the time, lawmakers said they believed that the fee would deter abusive public records requests or nonspecific searches that gobble up public employee work hours. Then-Gov. Mike Pence vetoed the bill.

The current bill, authored by Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, would also prohibit, with certain exceptions, an agency from charging a fee for providing a public record by electronic mail.

The Hoosier State Press Association, which traditionally advocates for open records, supports the bill, emphasizing the importance of the electronic records provision. This will be beneficial as “more and more records are collected electronically,” said HSPA Executive Director Steve Key.

Key, noting that more than half of the states had statutes including search fees, said the limits imposed “strike the proper balance in allowing a public agency to recoup search costs on voluminous requests while not serving as a chilling factor in the public’s ability to learn what its government is doing.”

Our problem with HB 1523 is the same one we expressed with the 2015 bill: It places an unfair burden on members of the public in obtaining records that belong to them. As for the concern about public employees — paid by taxpayers, mind you — spending time on such searches when they have other jobs to do, we think Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, put it best: “They are our employees. They work for us. To have to pay to come in and pay to get access to your records I just think is not a good principle, not a good policy.”

In announcing his veto of an earlier incarnation of the bill two years ago, Pence offered this tweet: “The cost of public records should never be a barrier to the public’s right to know.”

That was true then. And it’s true now. HB 1523 should be rejected.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 27, 2017 09:36 AM
Posted to Indiana Government