State Capitol News
7:18 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Lessening the Cost of Arizona Public-Record Access

Soon Arizonans will pay far less to gain access to the state’s public records. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer explains.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
Credit USA Today

Arizona law requires that public records be open to inspection by anyone during normal office hours. Agencies are allowed to charge a reasonable fee for making copies. But, Dennis Wells, the state ombudsman, said he has received complaints that some offices were forbidding people from making their own copies, whether with a cell phone camera or portable scanner. Wells asked Attorney General Tom Horne to take a look at the matter and in a formal legal opinion Horne concluded that the practice is not permitted. Attorney Dan Barr of the First Amendment Coalition said the opinion is a real game changer.

“The reality is now pretty much everybody has a smart phone,” said Barr. “And you're looking at a public document. You can inspect it. You can go, ‘Hey, these few pages are interesting or this paragraph is something that I want.’ You can just take a picture of it.”

And the agency cannot stop individuals from taking such photos. Horne also said that in his opinion it's illegal for an official to charge someone who wants to simply view a document — even if that official first had to make a copy to redact out confidential information. Horne said only if the person actually wants the copy can the government agency impose a charge.