- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - The sponsor of an Arizona bill that would impose new fees for access to public records said he wants to combat abuse of the system.

Republican Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista cited a Yuma man who he said constantly places unreasonable requests as the inspiration behind the bill.

But opponents say the bill, which would allow public-records custodians to charge $20 an hour for labor associated with retrieving public records, would disenfranchise members of the media and the public who rely on open records.

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.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday. Stevens said he is willing to make changes to the bill that would satisfy media organizations.

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.

Opponents of the legislation also took issue with Stevens‘ reasoning behind the bill.

Stevens and others said that one man in Yuma who has for years placed burdensome public-records requests has left lawmakers desperate to find a solution. But opponents said that most people place reasonable and necessary requests and that state law should not change because of one person.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns countered that 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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