VAB’s Legislative Committee will be meeting Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 2:00PM. On the agenda, the topic of free access to inspect Public Records in Vermont. This is a very complicated issue, but here is a simplified synopsis of why this topic is so important:
- VT’s Public Records Act (PRA) states that government agencies “may charge the cost of staff time associated with complying with a request for a copy of a public record”.
- Municipal and State government agencies charge an unpredictable array of fees for legal staff time to review and redact any of the 237+ exemptions written into the PRA. The larger the request, the more costly it is.
- In the recent “Reed Doyle vs. Burlington Police Dept.” case, a request to inspect (not copy) police body camera footage was made. BPD said it would take 30 minutes to review and redact before requester could inspect it and therefore, would be charged a fee. Requester argued that was against the PRA.
- The case went to the VT Supreme Court, who in essence, ruled the language of the PRA says government agencies can only charge for staff time to make copies, not for inspection and that it’s up to the State Legislature to debate.
- Despite the fact that VT’s Governor and Secretary of State support the Supreme Court’s ruling, VT’s Attorney General does not and is advocating re-writes to the PRA language that will enable agencies to charge for staff time to prepare documents, no matter if it’s to be inspected, photographed or copied.
- Obviously this is an issue of the utmost importance to Vermont broadcast journalists and news departments, which is why VAB is advocating to protect Freedom of Information through free access to inspect public records.
- VAB has been invited to give testimony during a House Government Operations Committee meeting this Thursday, January 9th at 9:00AM at the State House.
- If you would like to weigh in on this issue, please contact Wendy Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org