In Vermont last week, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved a bill setting up a new committee to examine the list of over 207 exemptions to Vermont’s public records law. The proposed committee would also look into the different charges for accessing public records.
Mike Donoghue of the Vermont Press Association said that a need for clarification of some exemptions is necessary, especially regarding police investigations and the hiring/firing/disciplinary action of town officials.
The proposal of this advisory committee comes on the heels of a recent bill, which implemented a $30 fee to access criminal court records electronically and also the removal of provisions from a separate bill that would lessen the charges for accessing certain documents.
"The public has already paid for the creation of those records through taxes. Why are they being hit again?" Donoghue asked.
Although a 1996 law says that Vermont state agencies must charge the "actual cost" of providing records, concerns have arisen that the fee was set to compensate for a loss of funding and does not reflect the actual cost of supplying the information. Citizens have also complained that agencies have increased prices in an effort to drive record seekers away.