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Hawaii's new vexatious requester law could affect journalists

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  1. Freedom of Information
The governor of Hawaii signed into law Wednesday a bill that allows state agencies to ignore records requests they deem…

The governor of Hawaii signed into law Wednesday a bill that allows state agencies to ignore records requests they deem to be duplicative or substantially similar to previous requests, The Associated Press reported.

Though the bill was written in response to the large number of requests made to see President Obama’s birth certificate — which the health department told the Hawaii Reporter in March take up about 10 hours a week — the language does not limit its scope to merely duplicative requests for the president’s birth certificate.

Instead, the law defines a "vexatious requester" as someone who files multiple requests that after "good faith review and comparison" are "duplicative or substantially similar in nature."

"The bill may potentially impact journalists requests," said attorney Jeffrey Portnoy, noting it put a lot of faith in agencies that will have the power to to dismiss any request it deems substantially similar.

Portnoy conceded that the duplicative nature of the so-called birthers’ requests is a legitimate issue, but said "this was an overly aggressive response."

Attorney Peter Fritz testified in March that he thought the bill, if passed, would violate open government laws.

"The Legislature should have used a scalpel to address the problem of multiple requests, but it decided to use a shotgun and cover all areas," Fritz said in an interview.