Bill Would Allow Fee for Extensive Public Records Searches

Public records could come at a price in the Hoosier State if a bill already passed by the Indiana House of Representatives becomes law. The bill would allow government and other public agencies to charge requestors of public records if the search for those records exceeds two hours.

The bill would allow those agencies to charge requestors $20 per hour if the search for the records exceeds two hours. Currently, there is nothing in the state's public records laws that allows government agencies to charge public records requestors for the time spent requesting the records.

"It allows government agencies to get at least a little bit of relief it cases where records requests are extremely broad and time consuming," said Dirck Stahl, an attorney who handles some of the public records requests submitted to the City of Evansville. "Most of the local agencies especially do not have someone who is dedicated and who's sole job is to pull records for people to look at."

The City of Evansville receives hundreds of records requests a year. Stahl doesn't anticipate the bill having too large of an impact on the city nor its residents.

"I would guess that the vast, vast majority of searches for records that are requested don't take two hours," Stahl said.

The are provisions within the state's public records laws that require the requests to have a reasonable amount of specificity. The proposed legislation would also require government agencies to work reasonably quickly to fulfill records requests. This language is meant to deter government agencies from 'dragging their feet' in order to trigger the $20 per hour fee.

While Stahl would like to see some tweaks within the proposed legislation, the bill strikes a good balance between the public's right to know and the government's right to function.

"You always have to make that balance," Stahl said. "Government agencies have a very serious obligation to be transparent and provide access to public records. They take that very seriously."

The bill was modeled after the federal government's open records law, dubbed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Twenty-seven states have similar laws that trigger a search fee, depending on the size of the records request and the time it takes to complete.

 


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