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Bill would let agencies charge hourly rate to fetch records

Mar 1, 2014

Arizona Republic

If you ask me the main reason Arizona's toothless public records laws were passed was to give the public the illusion that they have access to public records.

Under Arizona's public record laws there is absolutely NO punishment whatsoever for elected officials and government bureaucrats who refuse to obey them.

If a government agency refuses to honor your requests for public records you can't call the cops. Your only recourse is to sue the government agency, with YOUR money, and YOUR lawyer.

And even if you win the lawsuit, you are not guaranteed to get your legal costs paid by the government agency you had to sue. The law states that if you win, you MIGHT be able to recover your court costs and legal fees. That's MIGHT, like in MAYBE.

Myself I have probably made 150 to 200 request for public records to the city of Tempe asking for records relating to police misconduct and government corruption.

The city of Tempe has actually answered one, or maybe two of my 150 to 200 requests for public records.

If you ask me, what needs to be done is to put in some penalties for elected officials and government bureaucrats who refuse to obey the Arizona public records laws. It would nice to see royal government rulers, like the Royal government rulers on the Tempe City Council go to prison for refusing to obey the public records laws.

But that ain't going to happen. In this article Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista actually wants to weaken the public records laws.

Oops, I forgot, there is one major penalty, which has the force of a gentle slap on the wrist for elected officials who refuse to obey the public records laws.

They created the Arizona Ombudsman Agency to deal with government bureaucrats who refuse to obey he public records laws. You file a complaint with this agency and if your complain isn't solved the agency has the power to send a letter to the Arizona governor saying that the agency didn't honor your request for public records. Wow!!!! That's a real slap on the wrist that probably will terrify some government bureaucrat some where into obeying the law.

Bill would let agencies charge hourly rate to fetch records

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee The Republic | Tue Feb 25, 2014 10:24 PM

Proposed changes to the Arizona Public Records Law would permit government agencies to charge $20 an hour for staff time on requests for public records that take more than eight hours to produce.

The legislation is sought by municipal officials who say their cities are inundated with voluminous public-records requests that sometimes border on harassment. But opponents, mainly media organizations, argue that imposing a substantial fee would restrict access to public information and create a financial barrier to government transparency.

The House Appropriations Committee today is scheduled to hold a public hearing on House Bill 2419, sponsored by Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista.

Stevens initially proposed charging for labor costs on public-records requests taking longer than four hours. A new strike-everything amendment, which will be added to an unrelated bill, modifies the language to trigger the steep charges after eight hours.

Stevens on Tuesday held a meeting among interested parties to discuss next steps and areas of potential compromise. But he said he plans to pursue the legislation and hopes the bill moves forward this session.

Proponents say the proposed change is aimed at citizens who file extensive and burdensome records requests and abuse the process. The example most cited was a Yuma resident who for years has filed dozens of records requests and often does not pick up the records he has requested.

Local governments have had to hire or reclassify staff to respond to such public-records requests, bill supporters said.

Yuma would risk losing taxpayer money by taking the issue to court, as opposed to simply changing the law to charge more, said Steven Moore, Yuma city attorney. Meanwhile, it would hurt the city’s elected officials politically to deny the man’s public-records requests, as some of the bill’s opponents have suggested as an alternative to legislation, he said.

“It’s litigate or legislate, and we prefer a legislative solution,” Moore said.

Stevens and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who extended the four-hour limit to eight hours in the latest amendment, said they had heard of similar cases in other jurisdictions, including their own.

However, critics argued Tuesday that it is not good public policy to enact broad legislation in an effort to resolve specific nuisances.

“These are the public’s records,” said John Moody, attorney for the Arizona Newspapers Association. “If we enact policy impairing or chilling the public’s ability to access their records, to resolve a problem involving one guy, we’re choosing the solution for one guy over thousands of other Arizona citizens.”

Attorneys representing local media outlets noted they and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns had agreed to proposed changes to state law about four years ago to address repeated requests for public records that are not inspected or picked up within 180 days. However, the proposal never was enacted.

Chris Moeser and David Bodney, First Amendment attorneys whose clients include The Arizona Republic, argued there already is case law that public bodies may use to deflect repeated requests considered an abuse of the public-records process.

René Guillen, legislative director for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the agency wants to incorporate such case law into new legislation that would provide tools for custodians of record to reject onerous requests.

“I’d like to see that codified in the state law, just to make it crystal clear,” Guillen said.

A hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. today in the House of Representatives.