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Bill would let governments deny ‘unduly burdensome’ records requests

Saying local governments are wasting resources responding to public records requests filed by a handful of individuals intent on harassment, a state lawmaker wants to give agencies the power to deny such requests.

SB 1339, authored by Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, would apply to that are “unduly burdensome or harassing.” A government body would be allowed to deny the request if the person making it doesn’t identify the desired records with “reasonable particularity” or if it can’t be narrowed to a “manageable degree” in consultation with the requester.

Shooter didn’t respond to a phone call requesting a comment but told the Senate Government Committee, which advanced the bill, that the scope is limited to people who make frequent unreasonable public records requests.

“This is just to address it when it’s a repeated pattern of abuse,” he said.

The full Senate approved SB 1339 Monday on an 18-11 vote, forwarding it to the House.

Steve Moore, city attorney in Yuma, told the Senate Government Committee that two people comprise 70 percent of his city’s annual requests for public records. He said he is aware of other cities with the similar problem of one or two people constantly making large requests that use up thousands of dollars in resources and take many hours to fulfill.

“No one is seeking to deny the public any access that they seek,” Moore said. “We’re only looking to deny those people that are totally unreasonable.”

But Dan Barr, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in media law, said in a phone interview that while some people do abuse Arizona’s public records law the bill could pose problems for others who make legitimate requests.

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“Everyone agrees with the extremes. The problem is what happens when you have someone who is pursuing their rights and the public body doesn’t like it and they brand that person as a gadfly,” he said.

Paula Casey, executive director of the Arizona Newspapers Association, said her organization supports of the bill and worked with Shooter to ensure the language doesn’t interfere with the media’s ability to access public records. She said the language is present in case law and wouldn’t change access to public records.

Casey said oftentimes people will make large requests for records and not use them once they have been produced.

“The city governments are afraid to deny the requests for fear they’ll be sued, but these people don’t even come in and look at what they’ve requested,” she said.

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, said his organization supports the bill.

“Usually it’s one or two individuals who ask for boxes and boxes of documents and don’t really use them,” he said. “They’re trying to harass the government agency.”

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2 comments on this story

Feb 24, 2015, 7:24 pm
-0 +1

This is scary. Transparency is accountability. Plus, if my tax dollars pay for it then I get to read about it. I will never vote for anyone at any layer of government that gets on board with this horrible bill.

Feb 24, 2015, 7:16 pm
-0 +1

Sounds like a lot of people in Arizona media and govt don’t want to give the public access to the records their taxes pay for. Isn’t it interesting that this reactionary bill seems to be supported by tea party legislators

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Tarryn Mento/Cronkite News

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, shown in a 2012 photo, wants to allow governments in Arizona to deny public records requests deemed to be overly burdensome. He says a handful of individuals in many communities file requests that amount to harassment.

About SB 1339

  • Summary: Would allow government bodies to deny public records requests deemed to be “unduly burdensome or harassing,” meaning the requests aren’t reasonably specific or manageable. The governing body would have to notify the requester in writing first to give them the opportunity to make their request more specific or narrowed down to a more manageable level.
  • Author: Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma.
  • Status: Approved Monday by the state Senate and forwarded to the House.