To charge for public records or not to charge, that is the question. For the Nevada League of Cities &Municipalities, the question only takes 30 minutes to answer.
The organization is pushing Senate Bill 28, which would allow government agencies to start charging fees for public records after a government staffer has worked more than 30 minutes to comply with the request. That’s the definition the bill gives to the public records law’s existing language allowing fees when an “extraordinary use” of resources is needed to comply.
Under the bill, fees also would kick in if the records are more than 25 pages, regardless of how long the request takes. Government agencies also could charge Nevadans who opt to simply inspect records without seeking copies.
The Senate Government Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday about the bill without taking action. Supporters, all from the association or government agencies, said the legislation would clarify existing language in the public records law.
But media organizations and open-government advocates said the changes would restrict the public’s access to information about government and the spending of taxpayer dollars.
In his introductory remarks, Wes Henderson, the lobbyist for the organization backing the bill, drew laughter when he noted that a Review-Journal editorial on Wednesday had called the legislation the “worst bill” of the session. He said he was going to bring a newspaper to show but jokingly noted he would have had to pay for it.
He didn’t mention that the editorial is available free of charge at reviewjournal.com.
Henderson said the organization believes in transparency and officials aren’t trying to discourage requests.
Lawmakers didn’t voice strong opposition or strong support to the bill, but committee Chairman Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, noted it’s important to strike the right balance.
“What stops that person from going 31 minutes?” he said.
Victor Joecks, executive vice president of Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas, said the narrow time limit gives agencies a way to discourage requests for embarrassing information.
“When you start putting a time on it, then you have something to shoot for,” he said.
Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the 30-minute threshold is too easy to hit: It would be reached simply by three staffers who spend 10 minutes talking about a request.
“Copying 25 pages is an extraordinary effort?” Smith said. “If I were a government employee, I’d be rather insulted by that definition.”
Government support appeared broad. Supporting testimony came from the Metropolitan Police Department, Clark County, the Nevada Department of Corrections and the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson.
They shared unusual stories: Staff processing hundreds of pages that were never picked up, and a disgruntled employee filed weekly requests, saying they would continue until he was paid money.
The league also outlined an amendment that would change the maximum per page fee from 50 cents to 25 cents.
The amendment also would eliminate language that would have allowed agencies to charge 50 cents a page even for electronic records. In the new amendment, agencies could charge for the storage media used to deliver electronic records, such as disks.
Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.