Tom Horne Pimps Bill Restricting Access to Public Records
Now why would Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne want to make it difficult and costly for reporters and regular citizens to obtain public records?
Given the trouble Horne's gotten himself into regarding public records requests to his office -- resulting in an FBI investigation, two county attorneys concluding that Horne broke campaign finance laws, and a recent hearing before an administrative law judge who may fine Horne as much as $1.2 million -- I think I know the answer.
Still, I was intrigued to find that Horne had no less than three staffers down at the state House Technology and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday to observe the discussion on a strike-everything amendment to House Bill 2419, submitted by the committee's chair, Representative David Stevens.
The proposed language would allow public bodies to begin charging for the "labor" involved in gathering public records in response to requests, with the first four hours being free.
Currently, government entities only are allowed to charge for the copies they create. If you inspect public records in person and bring a portable scanner or take photos with a cell phone camera, you cannot be refused or charged.
In December, Horne even signed an opinion stating as much.
"The purpose of Arizona's public records law is to allow members of the public open access to inspect public records," reads the opinion. "This purpose would be hindered by imposing fees on members of the public who travel to a public office solely to inspect a public record."
And yet, signed in to speak on behalf of HB 2419 was Horne's director of legislative affairs Art Harding.
The AG's public information officer Stephanie Grisham was present as well. I'm told the AG's legislative liaison Brett Mecum was hovering about, but I didn't eyeball him myself.
Before the hearing, I asked Harding why the AG's office was in favor of the bill.
He told me it was because the AG's office had "pulled some data" for Stevens on the issue.
"Having done the research and pulled stuff for him," said Harding, with Grisham listening in, "I think it's just good policy to be supportive of it."
Harding went on to tell me that Arizona "lags behind other states," in the way records requests are dealt with.
"We're supportive of stopping these requests that take thousands of hours," said Harding.
(You know, like those from reporters digging into corruption in the AG's office.)