Veto charges for records searches

(FORT WAYNE) NEWS-SENTINEL

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing Hoosiers to be charged for any public records searches they request. But Gov. Mike Pence vetoed it and said the cost of public records shouldn’t be a barrier to the public’s right to know.

Now legislators have sent similar legislation to Gov. Eric Holcomb. The new bill allows state and local government agencies to charge the lesser of $20 per hour or the hourly wage of the employee completing the search, after the first two hours spent working on the request.

It requires a “good faith effort” to complete the search within a reasonable amount of time but does not say who would audit agencies or hold them accountable.

Holcomb should follow Pence’s example and veto this bill.

Yes, it is true, the costs aren’t really outrageous. But adding the costs at all, however small they might be, sends the wrong message.

The Indiana Coalition for Open Government is urging him to veto the proposal, calling it a step to “make government less open and insufficiently accountable” by adding barriers to access. Adds Indiana’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, “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.”

Supporters of the bill have a valid point in saying that the hourly fee can help prevent government agencies from being bogged down by large requests and that compensation would help to alleviate the burden on government resources.

But what that “burden on government resources” really constitutes is the act of public servants doing the public’s business. The public are already paying for those servants’ time and efforts by the tax dollars that are extracted from them.

Gov. Holcomb isn’t saying what he will do, but a spokeswoman says his administration “values transparency for citizens and providing access to the government they pay for.” She also notes that U.S. News and World Report ranks Indiana first in state government efficiency and effectiveness — and transparency is paramount to that: “That said, he’ll consider this bill carefully before making a decision, as he will every bill that makes its way to his desk.”

We optimistically choose to believe that means he will veto the bill.

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