Open Records Fee Draws Opposition
By Carlos Morales
A civil rights group is protesting a new $30 fee being charged for commenting on open records requests. The state attorney general’s office began imposing the fee through its new online filing system earlier this year.
On Wednesday Brian McGiverin, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project, filed an open records request to find out where the fee money goes.
Since January, you’ve had to pay to comment on a pending open records decision. McGiverin says charging that fee undermines government transparency.
“The attorney general has effectively said that if you want to have a voice in your government you have to hand him cash money, you have to pay to play,” McGiverin said. “There’s a word for that, it’s a word we all know, and that word is ‘tax.’”
The fee was approved during the 2011 legislative session. The law that created it says the attorney general “may charge and collect a non-refundable administrative convenience fee for the electronic submission of a document to the attorney general.”
But Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, says that wasn’t always apparent.
“They were given the permission or the green light to basically provide an electronic filing method they call an e-filing system,” Elkins said. “What was not clear during the legislative hearing was there was going to be a $30 fee with that.”
The attorney general’s office did not respond to our request for an interview Wednesday.
The fee is only charged for online filing. You can still file a comment in person or send it through the post office. But you can’t fax in your appeal or send it via e-mail. Those two forms have been done away with.