Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bill on county clerk records amended to set fees but still allows electronic records to be withheld; House committee votes on bill Thursday

An amended version of House Bill 2605 would still let county clerks refuse to provide electronic records, but now it sets a fee of up to 15 cents per page or $75 per book.

The House Government Modernization Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on the bill.

At least one county clerk opposed the original version of the bill.

"The records belong to the public, and while the clerks are charged with protecting and preserving them, in no way does that include denial of access to the information because of the format," Wagoner County Clerk Carolyn Kusler told me last week.

However, Kusler said she would like for the Legislature to set a copy fee for digital images just as it has for paper documents. Her suggestion was a $5 fee for each CD, plus 10 cents per image on the CD.

Rep. Gus Blackwell amended his bill Tuesday to include the 15 cents per page or $75 per book.

But Blackwell would still exempt county clerks from an Open Records Act requirement that records be provided in an electronic format if kept that way.

County clerks are mad at oil companies and at private companies that buy large amounts of land records to sell on websites. That threatens the clerks' copy money they use to run their offices.

But public records aren't supposed to be money-makers for government agencies.

And since 2000, a $5 fee has been added to each land instrument recorded with each county clerk solely to "increase the net funding level available to the county clerk to maintain and preserve public records." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 28, § 32(D))

The "County Clerk's Records Management and Preservation Fund" is "for the purpose of preserving, maintaining, and archiving recorded instruments including, but not limited to, records management, records preservation, automation, modernization, and related lawful expenditures." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 28, § 32(C))

HB 2605 would allow county clerks to refuse to "provide any record by electronic means."

While revenue from electronic copies of land records seems to be the reason for the bill, county clerk offices are home to a host of other public documents, such as the receipts and expenditures by county governments, including the payroll for all county employees and all claims for payment for goods and services.

County clerks should not get to chose who obtains the more useful electronic copies of those records and who is stuck with paper copies.

Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie,, chairs the Government Modernization Committee. The other members are:
David Brumbaugh, R-Tulsa,;
Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh,;
David Derby, R-Owasso,;
Mark McCullough, R-Supulpa,;
Lewis H. Moore, R-Arcadia,;
Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City,;
Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa,;
Aaron Stiles, R-Norman,;
Wes Hilliard, D-Sulphur,;
Randy Terrill, R-Moore,;
John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow,; and
Purcy D. Walker, D-Elk City,
To read previous postings about HB 2605:

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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