Politics Blog

State weighs fee for providing electronic records to public

There are a lot of bills milling around the state Legislature that deserve your attention and, given my job description, demand my attention.

I haven’t gotten to hardly any of them, admittedly, but nothing grabs a reporter’s attention like a tweak to public records law.

What is proposed in HB 1684 (no local sponsors) would allow public agencies to establish a fee structure for electronic records — a “per megabyte” charge to parallel the existing “per page” fee (up to 15 cents plus postage) that agencies are allowed to charge.

Not just legacy journalists but those in the rapidly growing citizen-journalist industry have gotten used to making a quick phone call, or sometimes filling out an official records request, and getting the documents emailed for free. Does this catch the law up to the changing technology, provide a valid funding source for governments, or place an undue burden on journalists and the public?

We’ll see what the public thinks. A public hearing on the bill began at 10 a.m. today, Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Meanwhile, at the same time, the state Attorney General’s Sunshine Committee (Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee) is considering draft legislation (no bill number yet) that would accomplish pretty much the same thing. However, one document included in the committee’s materials for today’s meeting mentions an exemption on the per-megabyte charge for “a requestor who is a representative of a newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book publisher, news agency, wire service, radio or television station or network, cable or satellite station or network, or audio or visual production company, or any entity that is in the regular business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public....”

I wonder what the citizen journalists think about that.