Editor’s Note:Read Civil Beat’s series on the cost of Hawaii’s public records here.
Benjamin Sadoski and Jenna Kruse have something in common. They both turned to the Uniform Information Practices Act to access public records in the past year.
But even though they used the same state law, Kruse paid five times as much as Sadoski in copying costs.
Hawaii statutes and administrative rules don’t give much guidance to government agencies on how much they should charge people to copy public records.
As a result, inconsistencies abound. People pay wildly varying rates from one state or county agency to the next, according to a Civil Beat review of dozens of records requests made over the past year.
State administrative rules, which the Office of Information Practices established in 1999, allow agencies to charge $10 per hour for the search and $20 per hour for the review and redaction of records.
Copying costs, however, are figured separately. State lawmakers determined in 1999 that the cost of reproducing government records “shall not be less than 5 cents per page, sheet, or fraction thereof.”
Sadoski, a research analyst for Unite Here, a local union for healthcare and hospitality workers, asked the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in June 2012 for a copy of a lease agreement with DeBartolo Development for a regional mixed-use center. He also asked for all publicly available commission actions and documents related to the agreement.
DHHL said it could fulfill Sadoski’s request for $90. It’d be $70 for the search, review and redactions and $20 for 400 copies at 5 cents per page. The agency didn’t waive any fees.
By contrast, Jenna Kruse, research director for the Brian Schatz for Senate campaign, asked the Lieutenant Governor’s office in March for emails, phone records, salary information, travel records and other documents from Schatz’s time as lieutenant governor.
The office told her this in-depth request would cost $348.75 — $320 for the search and processing of the records, including any redactions, $18.75 for 75 copies at 25 cents per page and $10 in postage. The office gave her the $30 fee waiver for general public records requests.
Two people. Two agencies. Two public records requests. Same law. Different results.
In one office, it costs $20 for 400 copies. In another office, that same $20 only gets you 75 pages.
For many citizens, the copying costs can make the difference between obtaining the public records or leaving empty-handed.
The OIP is comfortable with its rules guiding the fees for the search and review of records, but it has testified before the Legislature that the copying costs statute needs to be fixed.
It’s outside OIP’s purview, but the agency’s preference is to put a cap on it, such as 10 cents per page, rather than have a minimum.
Jennifer Brooks, OIP staff attorney, said lawmakers should take another look at the copying charges statute.
The public has the option of coming to the office and inspecting the records in person so as to avoid copying costs.
But in the archipelago that is Hawaii, this would mean an expensive interisland plane ticket for someone from Kauai, for instance, to fly to Oahu where the bulk of state records are kept.
State Sen. Les Ihara told Civil Beat that he will introduce a bill next legislative session, which starts in January, that addresses the concerns over copying costs for public records. He said he will look at tying it to the actual cost, which for the government is probably pretty low.
Ihara said the only practical impact of high copying costs is limiting people’s access to information.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.