The Mandate: Under Public Officers Law Article 6, New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) imposes substantial requirements upon municipalities to provide access to and copies of local government records.1 Although some requests are relatively easy to comply with, many are extensive, costing local governments hundreds of hours of staff time to search for and copy the records sought. Additionally, many municipalities are subjected to frivolous FOIL demands that divert local government employees from performing vital government functions in order to process these non-meritorious requests.
The Cost: As the law currently stands, municipalities are permitted to charge 25¢ per page for copies of letter and legal size records. The law does not allow a local government to account for the actual cost involved in expending municipal resources to locate, copy, and in many instances, redact confidential information from requested documents. The hours spent searching for and copying records for voluminous requests can impose significant costs on municipalities and often leads to the stagnation of government, as other duties typically performed by local officials must be put on hold in order to timely comply with such requests.
The Solution: TThe Public Officers Law should be amended to permit municipalities to charge 50¢ per page copied. Additionally,
· A municipality should be permitted to charge increased fees when the request is voluminous;
· A municipality should be allowed to impose a surcharge plus the actual cost of reproduction when the records sought will be used for commercial purposes; and
· A municipality should be able to seek an injunction to prohibit frivolous requests when the intent of the requester is to harass the local government officials.
Indeed, other states have implemented progressive policies that more accurately reflect the costs imposed upon local governments in complying with FOIL requests. For example, Michigan provides that a local government may charge for duplication, mailing, and labor costs when the failure to charge a fee would result in an unreasonably high cost to the public body.2
Amending New York's Freedom of Information Law to reflect policies like those mentioned above would drastically ease the burden imposed upon municipalities and their taxpayers, discourage individuals from making frivolous requests, and enhance local government efficiency.
1. See Public Officers Law § 87.
2. See Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.234.