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House committee removes public record search fee from bill

March 27, 2015

Lawmakers on Thursday stripped an education bill of major proposed changes to Indiana's open records laws after concerns were raised about how the measure would impact all government agencies and not just schools.

The legislation aims to simplify school management by eliminating duplicate and obsolete reporting requirements that school administrators say are taking resources away from the classroom. But the legislation also included a provision that would allow government agencies to charge a fee for information that takes longer than two hours to gather.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said his colleagues have expressed concerns that the provision would impact all types of state agencies and therefore should be considered as a separate measure, not as part of an education bill. The bill was amended to remove that language during a hearing in the House Education Committee, which then unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the full House.

Cook said schools currently adhere to about 1,500 pages of rules and regulations, some of which are decades old or unnecessary.

"There are some things about towns and schools that no longer exist," he said, adding that the measure "starts the needed process of deregulating and peeling back the burden placed on schools."

The original bill would have made several changes to the state's Public Record Act, including adding a search fee for requests that take longer than two hours to fulfill. After that time, an agency could charge $20 an hour and demand payment up front, which sparked mixed reviews from open-record advocates who say it would give state agencies another tool to fight transparency.

"It would be another barrier to access public information and I think it would be prone to abuse," Gerry Lanosga, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said in an interview following the hearing.

But Cook said the debate over changing the public records law likely isn't over.

"I think it will reappear in future sessions," he said. "It's something that just needed a little more study and more input from everyone on how it will affect various folks out in the public."

In the meantime, opponents are celebrating a win for public information and transparency among state agencies.

"I don't think it's warranted. I don't think it's necessary and I'm glad to see it gone," Lanosga said.
 

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