Fri, Jan. 24

New legislation would allow charging for extensive public records requests

PHOENIX -- Arizonans with complex or extensive public records requests could soon have to dig into their wallets for access to the documents.

Legislation set for debate Thursday would allow public agencies to charge not only for the cost of copies produced but any labor necessary for finding the documents and making those copies, based on the hourly wages of the employees involved. But the proposal crafted by Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, does provide up to four hours of labor without charge.

"It's an attempt to bring some restitution to people that have to provide all the information,' Stevens said.

"We're getting requests that are taking three, four or five days,' he said, with some governments having to hire additional staff to comply. Stevens said HB 2419 preserves the right of the public to inspect documents while not becoming a financial burden on all taxpayers.

Dan Barr, attorney for the First Amendment Coalition, called the legislation unnecessary -- and potentially harmful.

On one hand, he said communities can seek court intervention if they find themselves buried with overly broad records requests from "gadflies.'

But Barr said those with legitimate requests should not have to bear financial burdens simply because a government cannot produce documents efficiently or because an attorney needs to spend time going through the paperwork to redact confidential information. He said complying with public records requests is a cost of doing business, just as a police department can't refuse to investigate a crime because it cannot be done in a fixed period of time.

Stevens said there is precedent for that four-hour rule, saying it came from Nebraska law. But Stevens said he is willing to discuss the issue with interested parties -- but only after he gets approval for his plan today by the Committee on Technology and Infrastructure.

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