Chris Butler with Tennessee Watchdog published a story about the upcoming public hearings about charging new fees to inspect public records: Tennessee Open Records may get a little less open.
A reminder: If you can’t make a public hearing, you can still send comments answering the main question to be posed by the Office of Open Records Counsel at the public hearings at this email address: email@example.com.
1. Should the TPRA permit record custodians to charge for inspection of public records?
In Butler’s story, he quotes Tennessee Press Association, TCOG and Lee Harrell, the lobbyist for the Tennessee Association of School Boards, which is pushing the legislation to change the law so that citizens can be charged per-hour labor fees if they want to inspect public records.
Frank Gibson, who has worked on public records laws for several decades as the public policy director of Tennessee Press Association, former executive director of TCOG and one-time FOI chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, explained why the proposal is so bad for citizens and government transparency:
“We have opposed the current proposal because it has the potential to be used as a club by the government to be used against opponents or critics,” said TPA spokesman Frank Gibson.
“The legislation allowing labor charges for copies has been abused over and over.”
Harrell contends there are several cases in school systems where public records requests have become burdensome, a continuation of the theme of the pro-fee crowd that some requesters are trying to hassle their local government agency by asking for too many documents.
Even if there are a few situations in Tennessee each year when people made broad requests when a narrower one would suffice, Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, makes a good point and says any problems likely aren’t as rampant as Harrell makes out.
“The reality is people drive drunk, and we don’t ban cars across the board. We don’t take draconian measures that punish everyone for the actions of a few. That’s not how society works,” Owen said.
Read the entire story here: Tennessee Open Records may get a little less open.