By Lou Anne Wolfe
Journal Record Staff Reporter
A news reporter requests public information from a state
government agency that is in computerized form, and asks that it
be copied on a $2 disc supplied by the reporter. The agency
refuses, telling the reporter that the data is available only in
"hard copy" form that involves several hundred dollars of copying
A citizen wants to review a court case whose records are
computerized. How can the court clerk protect the records from
Those are two of a host of questionable situations involved
with public access to electronic government records, the subject
of an interim state legislative study.
The Advisory Committee on Access to Machineadable Records met
Tuesday for the first time, and is charged with developing
recommendations for legislation to establish a state policy on
Rep. Danny Williams, D-Seminole, introduced House Bill 2142,
which called for the study, and he is committee chairman.
Task of the 12-member panel is to agree on a definition for
what would be considered a public record in the area of
electronic records. They will look at what kind of access to
electronic records should be given to journalists, and what
records should be excluded from public scrutiny.
Current cost for hard copies under the state Open Records Act
is 25 cents a page. The committee will consider what would be a
reasonable cost for access to electronic records, and a process
for transferring the information.
"There are no absolutes in this process," Williams said. "We
are to find the best solutions, and make recommendations."
Ownership of computer software written by government employees
to store governmental data is another issue to be studied, along
with a look at whether state and local governments collect more
personal information than is needed for the matter at hand.
Approaches by other states will be considered, Williams said.
For example, New Mexico employs a publicivate, nonofit
organizational structure to disseminate public records, he said.
Georgia's approach is that "they own it, they control it and
they decide under what terms and conditions" people get access to
it, he said.
Next meeting of the committee is scheduled Sept. 30 at 1:30
p.m. in the State Capitol. Subject for discussion is the attorney
general's interpretation of the Open Records Act, and some cost
At a meeting scheduled Oct. 7, the committee will consider a
preliminary "framework" for the cost of record retrieval and
reproduction. Williams said the costs would be considered "in
concept, not dollars. …