April 12, 2017-Journalists across the state are speaking out against the latest in a line of disastrous legislation to come from the Brian Bosma led House of Representatives. House Bill 1523 would allow “a state or local government agency (agency), with certain exceptions, to charge a maximum hourly fee for any records search that exceeds two hours.” Under the bill, that fee would be $20 per hour. Current law does not allow a fee for searching and compiling records but provides for a cost of .10 per page. Critics of the bill point out that the search fees would be set by the agency compiling the request and residents would have little recourse if the fees are excessive. The Indiana Coalition for Open Government has issued a statement condemning the Bill, stating:
“With the language in HB1523, the Public will be at the mercy of slow computer equipment, inadequate training, poor search techniques, flawed database structure, and other aspects outside of their control. HB1523 is silent on who will audit the government agency, relying instead on good faith, to assure the Public is being given an accurate account of their time. Who determines what is a reasonable search time for a particular request? Will the government agency put their best individual on the task to obtain the records or will they assign their slowest employee?”
Local Republican Representatives Slager, Olthoff, Aylesworth, and Soliday carried the party line and voted in favor of the bill. Local Democrat Representatives Candelaria-Reardon, Brown, Smith and Mosely voted No in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, all Northwest Indiana Democrats and Republicans voted in favor the bill. Then Governor Pence vetoed a similar Bill two years ago.
Journalists throughout the State rely on the open records act for day to day articles such as campaign finance as well as in-depth reporting which exposes corruption and mismanagement. Tony Bennett’s e-mail scandal is a recent, high profile, case that was brought to light by a public records request. The original version of this Bill, vetoed by then Governor Mike Pence, was proposed shortly after the Bennett scandal became a national embarrassment to the Indiana Republican Party.
The Indiana Coalition for Open Government has launched an online petition urging residents to tell Governor Holcombe to veto the bill. In a Statement, the Coalition states “If the Legislature’s intent is to improve access to public records, make government more open, and increase accountability the Indiana Coalition of Open Government encourages pro-active transparency measures, legislation, and education.” The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has joined in the call for a veto as have journalists throughout the State.
@IndianaOpenGov & @IndyProSPJ @GovHolcomb