Iowa’s General Assembly has not yet passed its much-discussed open records reform legislation. Thus, the boundaries of electronic records access will continue to be determined by Iowa Code Chapter 22. Meaningful access to such records, however, is practically beyond the reach of most requestors because state government is increasingly imposing heavily restrictive “review” charges.

The statute permits government to charge for the actual costs of document copying. Retrieval charges have been added as a cost that agencies can recover from requesters, but now agencies are requiring a requestor to pay search fees based on the number of data fields and electronic records searched.

Beyond that, agencies are following the lead of the governor’s office by stating that e-mail messages will not be produced until the requester agrees to reimburse the government for time taken by staff lawyers to review whether records that match search terms are otherwise exempt or privileged. These attorney review charges shift the cost of access from government to the requester and, in many cases, make the cost of access unaffordable.

However, the governor’s office in May 2009 released e-mail messages sent using private computers and non-government servers in response to a request from The Associated Press. The content of the e-mail dealt with the conduct of state business, which the governor’s office said led to the release.