A bill that would have allowed government agencies to charge private citizens for public research requests will not go into effect this year.
Senate Enrolled Act 369 was aimed at “increasing transparency,” said Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, who authored the bill. It would have required local governments and school corporations to list financial information, including expenditures, expenses and balances, online.
But the bill would have allowed public agencies to charge for any research that would take longer than two hours to complete.
Gov. Mike Pence said that provision led him to the decision to veto the bill.
“I vetoed SEA 369 over fee for public record searches,” Pence said in a tweet Friday evening. “The cost of public records should never be a barrier to the public’s right to know.”
SEA 369 would not have allowed agencies to charge the research fee if the information was distributed electronically.
Miller said he plans to re-introduce the “transparency” legislation next session but will likely leave out the public search fee.
“How you find the right balance is what we’re after,” Miller said. “Apparently $20 is out of balance.”
Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Steve Key said he worked with Miller and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to create the research fee language. Like Miller, Key said he understands Pence’s concerns about the fee but wasn’t made aware of those concerns ahead of time.
“The timing (of Pence’s concerns) made it so that nobody could respond,” Key said.
But Indiana University Journalism Professor Gerry Lanosga, who is also with the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said he thinks the veto is “fantastic.”
“It would have put up another barrier to citizen access to public records,” Lanosga said.
Lanosga said while he “hopes” language including a public research fee would never reappear in the Indiana General Assembly, he’s aware it will likely resurface.
“Issues like this do tend to get revived,” Lanosga said.
Key said the bill passed the House three times and the Senate twice. He said he’s not sure yet if Miller’s bill next session will be more successful.