Lawmakers reconsidering search fee for public records

April 28, 2015

A fee for public records requests that take longer than two hours to fulfill is back on the table this session, Indiana lawmakers said Tuesday.

House members have approved a proposal that would allow government agencies to charge a searching fee for record requests that take over two hours. After that time, they could charge up to $20 an hour.

Lawmakers considered the fee and other public record changes earlier this session but voted to remove the language in from another bill in March.

State law currently prohibits public agencies from charging a fee to search for, examine, or review a record to determine whether or not it can be disclosed. Those requesting the documents can only be charged for the actual cost of copying a record, which is a minimum of $0.10 per page or $0.25 for color.

Supporters of the proposal argue that compensation for search times would help alleviate the burden that large requests place on government resources. But critics say the measure could discourage in-depth records requests and give officials another tool to fight transparency.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Dennis Zent of Angola said local governments often receive complicated requests for documents from certain individuals.

"I don't think that's a wise use of taxpayer money if that's just one individual repeatedly doing it," Zent said.

Supporters also applaud a provision that would allow a requester to receive records electronically. The search fee would apply, but the requester would not have to pay a copying cost.

Currently, an agency can refuse to provide electronic copies, forcing a requester to pick up records in person and pay a copying fee.

Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Steve Key said the benefit of getting records in an easy format outweighs the potential negatives of a search fee.

Key said it would also save time and resources for both government agencies and records requesters.

"This is going to probably force people to be a little bit more selective when they make records requests," he said. "It will be much more of a rifle approach as opposed to a shot gun or casting a fishing net."

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington criticized the measure.

"The records are created with our tax dollars; the employees and the buildings are paid for with our tax dollars. If they've got to suffer through a few people who make outrageous requests, that's kind of the price of democracy," he said.

The Senate is set to vote on the measure Wednesday, the 2015 session deadline.


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