Bill creating fee for public records heads to governor’s desk

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Public records requests that take more than two hours to complete would come with a price tag in Indiana under a bill headed to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The measure by Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, allows state and local government agencies to charge the lesser of $20 per hour or the hourly wage of the employee completing the search, after the first two hours spent working on the request.

The bill requires a "good faith effort" to complete the search within a reasonable amount of time but does not set out who would audit agencies or hold them accountable.

State law currently prohibits public agencies from charging a fee to search for, examine or review a record to determine whether it can be disclosed. Opponents say concerned citizens should not have to pay to access public records.

The House voted 63-27 Tuesday to approve changes made in the Senate and send the bill to the governor, who has not taken a public stance on it.

The Indiana Coalition for Open Government is urging him to veto the proposal, calling it a step to "make government less open and insufficiently accountable" by adding barriers to access.

Indiana's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also opposes the bill.

"It has the potential to be an obstacle to the reporting of a free press and an impediment to finding out the truth that could shroud government doings in secrecy," an SPJ statement from earlier this month said.

Supporters of the hourly fee argue government agencies can be bogged down by large requests and that compensation would help to alleviate the burden on government resources.

This bill also requires public agencies to provide electronic copies if they are requested and already exist. It does not require the agency to change the format of the public record.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson wrote in an email that Holcomb and his administration "value transparency for citizens and providing access to the government they pay for."

"The U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Indiana first in state government efficiency and effectiveness—and transparency is paramount to that," Wilson wrote. "That said, he'll consider this bill carefully before making a decision, as he will every bill that makes its way to his desk."

Former Gov. Mike Pence vetoed a similar measure in 2015 and said the cost of public records shouldn't be a barrier to the public's right to know.

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