Legal Hotline: Inspection of public records

  • Sep 03, 2015

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q: Does the RTKL require agencies to allow inspection of public records?  I just want to look at meeting minutes, but the agency said I need to pay for copies.

A:  Yes.  The Right to Know Law requires agencies to make public records available for public inspection, and copies are not required. Moreover, the OOR recently held that requesters can use their own equipment to make copies while inspecting public records.

Section 701 of the Right to Know Law requires public records to be made available for public inspection during the agency’s regular business hours.  The law does not allow agencies to impose a fee for inspection of public records, although agencies can charge for copies if a record must be copied for redaction purposes. With records such as meeting minutes, there should be no redaction and therefore no associated fees for public access when a member of the public wants to inspect the records. Many agencies keep records such as meeting minutes readily available in the main office and on the agency’s website.

Additionally, many requesters inspect records before deciding which, if any, records to copy.  The practice of inspecting prior to copies can significantly reduce copy fees associated with public records requests. The Office of Open Records has set the per page fee at $.25 per page for paper copies. As stated above, for those requesters with their own copy equipment like a cell phone camera, the Office of Open Records has held that agencies must allow requesters to make their own copies at no charge as long as other, more specific statutes do not govern fees. 

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.

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