The Indiana Law Blog has a post discussing legislation that imposes a fee for public records searches and an editorial by the South Bend Tribune critical of that legislation. The fees in question at this time have to do with paying for time spent by public employees compiling and reviewing responsive documents. Either way you go on this sort of thing has pros and cons.
The editorial quotes Rep. Pierce:
As for the concern about public employees — paid by taxpayers, mind you — spending time on such searches when they have other jobs to do, we think Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, put it best: “They are our employees. They work for us. To have to pay to come in and pay to get access to your records I just think is not a good principle, not a good policy.”
That’s at least a little disingenuous. The governmental entity has limited resources with which to accomplish a lot of different missions. Time spent on responding to public records requests is time not spent on those other missions. That’s not entirely inappropriate — providing the public with governmental records is one of the necessary functions. But there are limits. To get a little hyperbolic in order to illustrate the point, if one citizen made a records request that required 100% of the government’s resources in order to compile, review, and provide the response; nobody would believe that the one citizen should have the power to unilaterally hijack all of the government’s resources. Most requests are routine, and it’s appropriate for government to respond to those requests in the ordinary course of business without charging the citizen extra for processing the request. But, at a certain point, the requests can become burdensome to the governmental entity in a way that is really not fair to other taxpayers who expect that their tax dollars are paying for services other than responding to public records requests.
Where that line is and how to draw it is difficult to say, but I don’t blame members of the General Assembly for considering the matter. I don’t think considering the question should necessarily dismissed as an assault on the public’s right to know.