Hotline - RTKL fees and inspection

  • Jul 21, 2016

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q: How much can agencies charge for copies under the RTKL, and does the law allow agencies to charge for inspection-only of public records?  I just want to look at meeting minutes, but the agency said I need to pay for copies and staff time.

A:  The Right to Know Law regulates fees for access to most records and does not permit agencies to pass along staff time or salary fees.  The law also requires agencies to make public records available for public inspection without fees in most circumstances and allows the public to use their own equipment to make copies.

Section 1307 of the Right to Know Law governs fees, and it vests with the Office of Open Records (OOR) the power to set a per page fee for paper copies. The OOR fee schedule applies to executive branch agencies, with the courts and General Assembly setting their own fees for access.  The fee structure set by the OOR allows agencies to charge up to $.25 per page for paper copies of public records.  There are no fees permitted for records provided electronically, unless the records require redaction that can only be accomplished on paper.  In that case, fees can only be assessed for the pages that require printing.  Furthermore, section 1307(g) expressly prohibits agencies from imposing fees for determining whether requested records are public under the law.  Additionally, in accordance with case law interpreting the Act, the Office of Open Records prohibits fees related to search and retrieval of public records and staff time/salary fees related to public records requests.  There are other fees permitted by the RTKL, such as certification and enhanced electronic access fees, which can be found on the OOR’s fee page.

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. Agencies must make public records available for inspection during the agency’s regular business hours, and many agencies keep records such as meeting minutes readily available in the main office and on the agency’s website.

Many requesters inspect records before deciding which, if any, records to copy.  This practice can significantly reduce copy fees associated with public records requests, and the Office of Open Records determined in Muenz v. Township of Reserve, that the RTKL requires agencies to permit the public to use their own equipment to make copies of public records as long as there is not a more specific statute that regulates fees for access.

Meeting minutes must be made available for public inspection during the agency’s regular business hours under the Right to Know Law, and the agency cannot charge a fee for inspection. The agency must also permit the public to use their own recording equipment, such as a cell phone camera, in most circumstances, to make copies of public records during inspection.

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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