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Updated Feb 26, 2014 - 7:47 pm

House committee approves new public records fee

PHOENIX -- An Arizona House committee has approved a bill that would impose new fees for access to public records.

The bill would allow public-records custodians to charge $20 an hour for labor associated with retrieving public records. Opponents say it will kill access to public records by imposing an unaffordable cost on both the public and media organizations who use public records to investigate wrongdoing and hold government officials accountable.

The House Committee on Appropriations approved the bill by a 7-2 vote on Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, says the bill will protect cities and towns from excessive manpower costs that come with large and burdensome requests.

He has repeatedly cited a Yuma man who he said constantly places unreasonable requests as the inspiration behind the bill.

Stevens, who had a meeting to discuss the bill Tuesday, said he is trying to protect cities and counties from burdensome requests that require hours in costly manpower.

House Bill 2419 would allow public-records custodians to charge only after the first four hours of labor. State law currently allows the custodians to charge only for the cost of printing public records.

Media organizations and attorneys oppose the fee as a restriction on information the public already owns.

Attorney David Bodney said the bill would kill access to records. Retrieving public records is a government function already paid for by taxpayers, he said.

"With all due respect, that's a very important part of their jobs and a very important part of what we pay for," Bodney said.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns says something must be done to handle repeated requests from people who overwhelm public employees.

"We're trying to be as effective with taxpayer dollars as we can be," league legislative director Rene Guillen Jr. said.

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