The Murfreesboro Post caught up with state Sen Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, after the public hearings this week. Tracy, at the request of the Tennessee School Boards Association, sponsored their bill to allow new fees to be charged against citizens who want to see public records.
Tracy told Murfreesboro Post reporter Sam Stockard that he wanted to put some teeth in the law to go after the “bad actors” on both sides — government officials who were delaying or obstructing requests, and those who were requesting emails from entire school boards or county commissions. (Tracy told Tennessee Coalition for Open Government the same thing earlier this year.)
He told Stockard that the bill was just to get the discussion started.
“I’m never gonna run that bill. That bill was presented just to get the discussion (started), both parties together.” Murfreesboro Post story: Sen. Tracy: “I’m never gonna run that bill”
Tracy comments indicate that he expects the bill to amended from the original version, and said he is waiting to see results of the study.
Tracy has been fairly clear about what he would like to see. He told the Senate committee when he took the bill off notice earlier this year that the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel would hold hearings this summer with the Advisory Committee for Open Government, and asked the two to study the draft amendment. The draft amendment sought, among other things, to study ways to reduce costs of fulfilling public records requests and to add penalties against government violators. The Office of Open Records Counsel, however, decided to keep the focus on the original bill in its study, which simply added the ability to charge fees to inspect records.
Earlier this week, John Dunn, spokesman with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, which oversees the Office of Open Records Counsel, said it is not the intent of Open Records Counsel Ann Butterworth to provide a yes/no recommendation to the General Assembly. But rather she plans to recommend to the Tennessee General Assembly certain factors to consider as they consider this legislation. While the questions presented at the public hearings focused around fees for inspection, and how to charge them if they are implemented, several citizens and journalists spoke about their problems getting access to public records or being charged unaffordable costs to get copies. Only a few government officials spoke in favor of fees, saying that gathering and sometimes redacting documents to make them available sometimes took multiple hours, and they thought per-hours fees would be a way to reimburse government for the time spent.
Shelbyville Times-Gazette: People say “no” to public records fees (Associated Press full story)
WPLN (audio from hearing): Plan to charge Tennesseans to see public records criticized at hearing
Murfreesboro Post coverage of the public hearings: Fees for public records overwhelmingly opposed
Comptroller’s YouTube channel: Audio from all 3 hearings in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson