State Legislative Bills Deal With Electronic Copies Of Public Records

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PHOENIX — The question, “Paper or plastic?” is usually reserved for supermarket checkout lines, but a Senate bill could have public records clerks using a similar refrain.

Authored by Sen. Jay Tibshraeny (R-Chandler), SB 1305 would require public bodies that keep public records electronically to provide them upon request on CD-ROM or in another format.

The change would allow more efficient public access to records, said David Bodney, a media attorney with the Phoenix law firm Steptoe and Johnson LLP.

“It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it makes the information more readily searchable,” he said.

“If the information superhighway means anything, it ought to mean that public bodies produce their records in electronic format when they’re maintained in electronic format.”

The bill is among several that aim to reconcile access to public records with evolving technology. Other measures would make information documenting changes to electronic documents a public record, allow public officials to redact certain information from e-mails and keep open meeting announcements online longer.

Elizabeth S. Hill, Arizona’s assistant ombudsman for public access, said she suggested the changes in SB 1305 to clear up gray areas in public records law.

Among several provisions, it would make electronic records available for inspection or copying in a format such as a database or spreadsheet if a government body maintains records in that format.

However, public officials could change the data to a format that can’t be manipulated, such as a PDF, Hill said.

Under the bill, a government body could charge a reasonable fee for electronic records and could charge more if compiling the data takes longer than two hours.

SB 1305 would require that copying fees for paper records not exceed the cost of reproduction, including equipment, maintenance and personnel time. Tibshraeny also put those provisions into another bill, SB 1304.

In addition, Tibshraeny, who didn’t return three phone calls seeking comment, authored SB 1303, which would require Web announcements for open meetings to stay online for one year.

The measure would allow government bodies to post meeting notices on Saturdays, though posting on Sundays still wouldn’t be allowed.

SB 1248, authored by Sen. Jonathan Paton (R-Tucson), would counteract a January appeals court ruling by classifying as public record metadata, or data about other data that’s contained within a file, such as who accessed it and when.

The ruling in Lake v. City of Phoenix denied Phoenix police officer David Lake access to data that he requested to support his claim that the city backdated documents related to his Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.

Hill said she didn’t understand that ruling.

“The fact of the matter is, electronic records create this metadata,” Hill said.

“How do you separate that from the record?”

Paton didn’t return three phone calls seeking comment on the bill.

Still another bill, HB 2328, authored by Rep. Tom Boone (R-Peoria), would permit government officials to redact personal information about senders of e-mails they’ve received.

David Cuillier, University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee, disagreed with the proposed change, saying the public needs to know who influences politicians.

“To have this legislation passed means people will routinely in every organization redact information in e-mails,” he said.

“If there’s a need to make someone secret, legitimately secret, there’s a law for that already.”

Boone didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment on the bill.

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