HSPA: Records fee would not hinder public access

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H.B. 1175, dealing with voluminous records requests and citizen access to electronic records, sailed through the Indiana Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee with a vote of 9-0 March 12.

The Hoosier State Press Association worked with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on the principles embodied in the bill.

The HSPA Freedom of Information Committee chaired by Bill Nangle, executive editor of The Times (Munster) vetted those principles, and HSPA also drew on advice from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, authored the bill, which passed out of the House with a 72-27 vote.

The opposition focused on the search fee as a new “tax,” according to Friend.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, sponsors the bill. It now goes before the full Senate, where it is eligible for second-reading amendments.

Holdman did offer an amendment suggested by the state Department of Administration to clarify the computer processing time exception, which HSPA believes was an improvement to the bill. The committee accepted the amendment.

The voluminous records request language sets up a threshold of two hours of search time before the public agency can charge a fee for labor involved in fulfilling a records request.

The cost is capped at the lesser of the hourly rate of the public employee making the search or $20 an hour.

“Adding a records search fee is not on HSPA’s public access agenda, but the bill attempts to strike a balance between fairness to a government agency’s time commitments and avoiding a high cost that would effectively close off public access,” said Steve Key, HSPA’s executive director and general counsel.

Key called the second part of the bill – allowing better access to electronic files – a clear step in favor of citizen access to government records.

Under current law, if a citizen asks for a copy of an Excel spreadsheet containing budgetary information so she can run data comparisons, for instance, the citizen has no right to receive the spreadsheet as an electronic document.

A government official could insist that the citizen come to the office and receive a paper copy of the spreadsheet.

Under H.B. 1175, the citizen could request that the document be sent via email.

On another front, it appears S.B. 162 – the bill attempting to bring greater transparency to the workings of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. – will move forward in the House without its sponsor offering any amendments to strengthen the bill.

State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, sponsors the bill, and State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, authored it.

Burton said this week he doesn’t anticipate amending S.B. 162.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is resistant to language put together by Delph as a Senate second-reading amendment.

Delph didn’t offer the amendment because it likely would have killed the bill in the Senate.

“The bill remains a step forward in transparency in its current state,” Key said. “This may be an example of getting a half-loaf of bread. It’s not as good as the full loaf but better than no bread.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee, chaired by State Rep. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.