No Charging for Public Records Retrieval - 2/15/2015

Feb 15, 2015

New Hampshire's right-to-know legislation is an important part of an accountable, transparent government, but what happens when broad requests start eating up hours of municipal and government employee time? The sponsors of HB 646 argue that the answer lies in charging those making right-to-know requests for the time taken to retrieve requested records, after the first hour. On February 15, the Live Free or Die Alliance (LFDA) asked Facebook members to share their opinions on the issue, posing the question, "Should NH allow municipalities and public agencies to charge for public record requests?"

A strong majority (85%) of those directly answering the question stated that they would not support charging for the time needed to fulfill public record requests, with only 15% in favor. Rather than giving a yes or no response, 30% of total commenters opted to discuss broader issues. In sum, the LFDA received 115 specific comments and 242 concurrences for a total of 357 citizen responses. 

Opponents of HB 646 argued that, since municipal and government agencies are already funded by taxpayer dollars, charging for public records retrieval meant citizens were 'paying double'. "Why should we pay for something that we have paid for already? They work for us, not the other way around," one commenter said. Others argued that the bill constituted "a way to avoid transparency," as one respondent put it. "This would only reward those who do not keep good and well-organized records. If they can't access the requested records in a reasonable amount of work, they need to create a better record-keeping system," argued another. 

Others held that charging for the time involved in record retrieval was reasonable. "Lawyers, hospitals, doctor's offices, etc. all charge for records… I don't see why a similar fee for state and government records should be a problem," one commenter said. Some pointed out that the costs of record retrieval would be paid one way or another. "Record-keeping is paid for. Additional record retrieval and duplicating isn't. Either put a user fee on requests that go beyond a usual minimum amount of labor and materials or else those costs will have to be factored into property taxes," a respondent said. 

Several of those addressing their comments to broader issues questioned whether a more efficient system of keeping and storing records would make the problem of broad right-to-know requests irrelevant. "Why aren't all these records stored digitally? Then people could just go on line," one commenter suggested. "If it's taking more than an hour to retrieve a record, maybe the organization of the record keeping needs to be reevaluated and this wouldn't be an issue," another said. 

Click here to view the full Facebook thread for this question. 

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