A fee for public records requests that take longer than two hours to fulfill will be removed from a House bill, its sponsor said Tuesday.
House Education Committee members are considering a bill that aims to simplify school management by cutting obsolete and duplicate rules, as well as change how public records are handled by all types of Indiana agencies — not just schools, which sparked mixed reviews from open-records advocates.
But Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, proposed an amendment Tuesday that would remove all the changes to the Public Record Act. "There are so many other folks affected by it," not just school administrators, Cook said. The bill co-sponsor also worried that if schools could charge a fee, it would start a "domino effect" of other types of public agencies demanding the same perk.
Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, chose not to hold a vote on the amendment to give lawmakers time to consider Tuesday's testimony, but Cook said he has no plan to put the changes to public record laws back in.
State law currently prohibits public agencies from charging a fee to search for, examine or review a record, but they can charge for the actual cost of copying a record, which is a minimum of 10 cents per page. Lawmakers originally proposed allowing government agencies to charge as much as $20 an hour upfront for requests that take longer than two hours.
Supporters argued that compensation would help alleviate the burden that large requests place on staff and other resources.
"We've had one parent come in and submit a public document request once a week for the entire year," said Tommy Reddick, director of Paramount School of Excellence, an Indianapolis charter school.
Opponents said an added search fee would discourage in-depth requests and give officials another tool to fight transparency.
"These government offices would see this as a loophole to generate revenue and begin to create roadblocks between us and public records," said Daniel Christian, president at Indiana Search Technologies, which does research for the title insurance industry. "We just want to make sure that the committee is aware that if for some reason it's put back in, those fees will come out of the consumer's pocket."
Cook said he plans to also remove a provision that would allow a requester to receive records electronically, which open-records advocates supported. Currently, an agency can refuse to provide electronic copies, forcing a requester to pick up records in person and pay the copying fee.
Behning said he expects to discuss the final proposal and any proposed changes when the committee meets again Thursday.