- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A bill that would reduce fees and wait times for documents under South Carolina’s public records law may be closer to passing this year.

On Wednesday, a House subcommittee did some swapping to work around a senator who’s been blocking the proposal.

The panel took a bill passed by the Senate making police dashboard camera video available under a public records request and replaced it with the overhaul bill.

Rep. Bill Taylor wants the dashboard camera bill to pass too. So he said he hopes when the House passes the new bill, the Senate will add the dashboard provision to it. The process allows the bill to avoid a Senate committee where it could be blocked again.

“Sometimes we have to resort to legislative tactics,” said Taylor, who has been fighting for expansion of the state Freedom of Information act for six years.

One senator, Democrat Margie Bright Matthews of Walterboro, blocked the proposal in a committee after it passed the House.

Bright Matthews said Wednesday that governments, especially smaller ones, shouldn’t be limited too much in what they can charge. She reiterated the same objections she had at a March Senate Judiciary Committee meeting - that a recent incident prompted a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests from around the world in Colleton County, her home. A man charged with a shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado had lived for years at the county.

“We only have a few employees in the first place,” Bright Matthews said in March. “It basically shut down everything those girls could do at the courthouse. They ended up not taking care of the citizens of Colleton.”

The bill also establishes an agency to hear disputes between public bodies and people requesting information. The only way now to have those disputes heard is a costly lawsuit.

Bright Matthews said the nearly $150,000 the agency will spend for a judge and a clerk is too much.

She also said people angry with her blocking the bill gave out her personal cellphone number.

“That’s not necessarily the best way to get to me. I will not be bullied. I am going to protect my six counties,” Bright Matthews said.

Supporters of the bill said governments have at times charged exorbitant copying and research fees to withhold information that should be public.

The bill cuts the time an agency has to decide whether to provide records to the public under a request from 15 days to 10 days. If the request is granted, the agency has 30 days to produce the information. The time periods are longer when the records are more than two years old.

The proposal also requires posted fees for copying records that can’t exceed rates charged by copying business and bans copy charges when records are provided as computer documents.

Governments couldn’t charge a fee to retrieve the records higher than the lowest salary of an employee who handles the records under the bill.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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