The Iowa Public Information Board is attempting to do away with excessive requests for public records by enacting legislation giving government agencies the power to ignore those requests for up to one year.
The Board considers those “vexatious requesters” a serious problem. They met earlier this month to discuss what they consider excessive and abusive requests for documents held by public agencies.
Iowa Capital Dispatch reports that under the proposed bill, a government agency could go before the board in an effort to show abuse of the Open Records Act by stipulating to the number of requests filed by an individual; the scope of the requests; the nature and “language” of the requests; and the nature, content and language of other communications the requester has had with an agency.
If an agency notifies the board of excessive requests, they would be provided a decision within 15 days as to whether any pending or new requests from the individual could be held until the dispute is resolved.
Board Executive Director Erika Eckley says there have been instances in the past when individuals would file hundreds of requests, automating across all counties, school boards, cities, and the like, followed by harassing communications.
During the meeting to discuss the issue, it was asked why those agencies don’t file criminal harassment charges. It was the Board’s belief that it would be very difficult to prove.
The proposed bill would have the Public Information Board consider a requester’s motives in seeking information by deciding whether the requests for documents were “intended to harass the government body.” It was stressed that the legislation would not be meant to prevent access to public records by news organizations, political groups, or those simply seeking information.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has a page on their website for government agencies to consider when dealing with public records requests. It explains that the reason for the request is irrelevant, and records that are open to public examination “must be produced.”
Iowa Capital Dispatch reports Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, wrote to the board, objecting to the proposed legislation and calling it an “unwarranted and unwise erosion of 50 years’ of citizen access to government records.” He went on to say, “There is no asterisk in the plain language of (the Open Records Law) that spells out who can use the statute.”