Getting Deeper into the whole FOI cost issue…

My buddy Joel Campbell takes the whole cost issue of HB477 apart in a must-read column:

Many proponents of the failed HB477 argued that the government needed to control the costs of voluminous public records requests and limit the ability of the public to “inspect” a record free of charge. Before such policies get blindly rolled into another GRAMA bill this summer, the GRAMA working group and others should reconsider the ill-conceived fee provisions in HB477.

In plain language, HB477 proposed a scheme in which a requester using the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) would not only pay fees to cover the “actual cost” of providing the records, but it also added new charges for overhead and administration. That would have undone Utah GRAMA’s current and narrowly drawn “actual cost” provision, which is among the best in the United States.

Despite a good law, there is wide interpretation of this provision. For example, costs for a paper photocopy can range anywhere from 10 cents to $5 a page across the state. Some government entities justify high records costs to support the maintenance of a computer system to store records, while others may simply view copy fees as a revenue stream.

In Florida, fees for copying paper records are also limited to the actual costs, unless fees are set in law. Otherwise, government cannot charge more than 15 cents per copy. Florida law also prohibits public offices from using photocopy charges as a revenue stream, according to Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. Utah legislators should consider similar uniform cost limits for both electronic and paper records across all levels of government.

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