TOPEKA, Kansas — A proposal to limit the fees state and local government agencies in Kansas can charge people who seek public records has cleared a legislative committee, but its sponsor has backed off a proposal to prohibit charges for staff time in retrieving documents.
Freshman Sen. Jake LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican, said the latest version of his bill is a compromise designed to see that agencies can cover their costs without records requests becoming "a revenue source for anybody." The new version limits charges for copying and staff time, though agencies still could charge up to $60 an hour if attorneys are involved in vetting requests.
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved the new version on a voice vote Thursday, sending the measure to the full Senate for debate. But the bill faces opposition from the League of Kansas Municipalities, which argues that decisions about what cities can charge should be left to local officials and based on local costs.
The Kansas Open Records Act allows government agencies to set reasonable fees, including for the time it takes staff to review and retrieve records. The law isn't more specific, except that for the state's executive branch agencies, a copying charge of 25 cents per page is deemed reasonable.
It's not unusual for government agencies to charge hundreds of dollars to fulfill records requests if they're not narrow or they involve searching through emails. Typically, payment is required up front, before the records are released.
"The goal is to put some reasonable fees in place so an agency's costs are covered and information can't be kept from citizens because it costs too much," LaTurner said after Thursday's meeting. "Simple requests should be free."
LaTurner introduced his bill last year as soon as he took office, but it did not receive a hearing until this year. The cities' league objected to banning charges for staff time, and Nicole Proulx Aiken, an attorney, said the new proposal is an improvement.
But, Aiken said, the law should not be "one size fits all." She said it should leave discretion with cities in line with the spirit of a provision of the state constitution granting them "home rule" authority, because costs vary from place to place.
"We certainly recognize that records need to be open," she said.
Under the latest version of the bill, records requests that can be provided with less than an hour of staff time or with less than 25 pages are to be provided with no charge. Otherwise, the measure allows for copying charges of up to 25 cents a page.
The bill also sets charges of $18 for clerical staff's time, $38 an hour for computer services' staff time and $60 an hour for attorneys, who sometimes are called upon to review records to ensure that information that can or is required to be kept confidential is not released. LaTurner said the rates mirror those for the Department of Administration; people who feel a state agency's fees are unreasonable can appeal to the department's secretary.
"I am glad that we finally have something out on the table," said Richard Gannon, a former state senator who lobbies for the Kansas Press Association. "It's not perfect, but it's got a good start in the process."
Information on records-fee bill: http://bit.ly/1h3o5OD
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna