Counties Open To Reframed Public Information Process

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, to seek amendments to SB 695, General Provisions- Public Information Act- Enforcement, Fees and Exemptions, on March 6, 2015. The still-evolving bill creates a new State Public Information Act Compliance Board to resolve disputes over discretionary denials of information, fees and denials of a newly created fee waiver. Additionally, this bill requires contractors or subcontractors to relinquish public records and creates new statutory damages.

The MACo-sought amendments to this bill would recognize the valid legal, operational and cost considerations of county governments while reasonably increasing the access to public records. Other stakeholders have asked for changes, and counties have agreed to engage as stakeholders in a revision process in the weeks ahead.

The written testimony explains MACo’s general wariness:

In general, the number of PIA requests that counties receive have been increasing in both number and complexity. Counties struggle with far‐reaching abusive requests or “fishing expeditions.” But even focused and rational requests take time and money to fulfill. SB 695 would upend the ability of the counties to set reasonable fees while at the same time imposing challenging performance expectations – all of which could have substantial effect on taxpayers, who must effectively subsidize the real costs of requests if they are not recovered from the requesting party. The bill’s fiscal note discusses the potentially significant impact the bill will have on local government operations.

For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.