We wholeheartedly agree with the recently released statement by IndianaProSPJ:
The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists calls upon state lawmakers to reject House Bill 1523, a bill that would let state and local government agencies charge up to $20 per hour to fulfill requests for public records that take more than two hours to find.
This legislation goes against the idea that government is supposed to serve the people, would undermine government transparency and could easily be abused to hide public records from the public view.
It is not hard to imagine local governments exploiting such a law to make it cost-prohibitive for journalists and concerned citizens to find out what their elected representatives are doing, and how their tax dollars are being put to use. Some citizens may not be able to afford such search fees and could be denied access to government records that are supposed to be available to all.
Government employees could deliberately drag their feet on such requests, racking up exorbitant charges to produce records the taxpaying public already paid for in the first place, either to shut down requests or deter them in the future.
If anything, the state legislature should be working to make public records more accessible, and available to anyone online. Local officials should not be given the tool of search fees to hide documents that belong to the public and should be open to the scrutiny of all taxpayers and voters.
The bill defeats the entire purpose of Indiana’s public access laws, and should be defeated. 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. This legislation is simply not in keeping with the values of Hoosiers or an open, democratic society.
If government agencies are actually struggling with the burden of providing the public with public records, it should be addressed in another way — perhaps by automatically publishing everything on the government agency’s website so journalists and citizens can execute such searches themselves, freeing up government workers for whatever other tasks.