Many public records requests these days in Indiana aren't for budgets, minutes or agendas, but rather for the contents of e-mails between individual public officials or employees.
Those e-mails are public documents, even if a public official uses a private e-mail account, Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said during an information session held Wednesday at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce . . .
Indiana law says public access issues should be interpreted liberally in favor of access by the public, although the law allows some records to remain private.
"I'm pro-transparency and also pro-government. These laws are in place so the public knows how the government is operating," Britt said.
Public access is about far more than how government spends public money, Britt said. "It's also important to know how the government operates, the process and how decisions are made," he said.
There's a bill being considered in this session of the General Assembly — House Bill 1306 — that would allow government agencies to charge a fee to members of the public, the media and anyone else for a public records request that takes more than two hours to fulfill. The measure would allow a governmental office to charge the hourly salary of the employee handling the search or $20 per hour, whichever is less.
Britt said he's concerned about the potential for abuse if the measure passes. "If it passes, I hope it doesn't discourage governmental entities from putting information online because (Bill 1306) produces a revenue stream," he said.You read that correctly. HB 1306 would allow governmental agencies to charge you $20 an hour to search for public records if an agency claims it takes more than 2 hours to search for the documents. Well guess what, every search will trigger at least a $20 fee to discourage members of the public from requesting critical information in our never-ending effort to keep our elected officials honest. An investigative committee of the Indianapolis City-County Council has been trying in vain for the past four months to pry out of the hands of the Ballard administration key records regarding the corrupt, 25-year, $20 million lease for the Regional Operations Center. Imagine the charge for those records if a member of the public had to request them instead of a city council committee.
You need to know who these lawmakers are who are behind this bill. HB 1306 is sponsored in the House by two members of the House Republican leadership team, State Representatives Bill Friend (R-Macy) and Kathy Richardson (R-Noblesville), and State Rep. Christine Hale (D-Indianapolis). The Senate sponsors are State Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Huntington), State Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) and State Sen. Jim Arnold (D-LaPorte).
Incredibly, this bill passed the House on an 86-8 vote so it's truly a bipartisan endeavor to block the public from accessing public records. According to the Indiana Law Blog, the Hoosier State Press Association has even supported the legislation. These people are at war with the public. Even the media is unabashedly working against your interests. They want to keep all of their dirty little government secrets out of your reach. It's just more evidence of the arrival of a totalitarian police state no different than the former Soviet Union. You better get used to living under tyrannical rule because it's here, baby.