Public officials and agencies would be, for the first time, on the clock to meet a deadline to fulfill requests for public records if a state House proposal becomes law.
Members of the House Ethics and Freedom of Information Act Study Committee Monday OK’d a proposal to give public bodies and agencies between 30 and 35 calendar days to make public records available from the day they agree to fulfill a request, depending on how old the documents requested are.
The proposal also would shorten to 10 working days — from 15 — the response time that public agencies have to agree to or deny requests for public records.
“That’s an excellent change,” said Lynn Teague, a League of Women Voters vice president.
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The proposal, theoretically, would prevent requests for information from taking months or years to fulfill. It also would create an office within the state administrative law court to settle disputes between those requesting and those granting or denying access to public records.
However, Teague said she had concerns about another part of the proposal, which would allow public bodies to charge up to $100 an hour to fulfill requests after completing two hours of work at no charge. That high a fee, she said, could deter citizens from making large requests, she said, adding it would be more fair to allow agencies or public bodies to recoup the wages of employees filling the requests plus additional costs.
The panel also OK’d several other proposals aimed at clarifying rules, including requiring agencies to post agendas for public meetings, defining committees so that political groups are forced to disclose publicly their campaign activity, and banning public officials from controlling political committees.
The legislation will be introduced for consideration when lawmakers return to work in January for the first session of a two-year General Assembly.
Some of the proposals, including one to make public officials disclose publicly more information about their income, are similar to ones that died with the end of this year’s legislative session.
Under the plan advanced Monday, lawmakers would be required to report:
• Sources of income reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
• Sources and amounts of income earned by public officials or a member of their immediate family or an associated business when the income comes from the government, a company that lobbies government, a government appropriation approved by government entity where the public official is a member or any payment from a political campaign.