Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb used the first stroke of his veto pen Monday afternoon on a bill that would have allowed state and local government agencies to charge a fee to citizens for public records requests that required more than two hours of work.
In a letter to House Speaker Brian Bosma, Holcomb wrote that the legislation was “contrary to my commitment to providing great government service at a great value for Hoosier taxpayers.”
“Providing access to public records is a key part of the work public servants perform and is important from a government transparency standpoint,” Holcomb wrote. “I do not support policies that create burdensome obstacles to the public gaining access to public documents.”
The measure by Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, would have allowed 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.
The bill required a "good faith effort" to complete the search within a reasonable amount of time but did not set out who would audit agencies or hold them accountable.
State law currently prohibits public agencies from charging a fee to search for, examine or review a record to determine whether it can be disclosed. Opponents say concerned citizens should not have to pay to access public records.
The Indiana Coalition for Open Government had urged Holcomb to veto the proposal, calling it a step to "make government less open and insufficiently accountable" by adding barriers to access.
Indiana's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also opposed the bill.
Holcomb said he understood the intent behind the bill and said he supported a provision that would require public agencies to provide electronic copies of public records.
“Finally, I believe there are steps that can be taken administratively to streamline and improve the process for fulfilling public records requests, and I have charged my office to examine the best ways to provide public transparency and access to public records at the highest possible value to taxpayers,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb signed 33 other bills into law on Monday. A list of bills he has received can be found here.