Gov. Christie signs bill restricting public record fees to cost of copying

Gov. Christie signs bill restricting public record fees to cost of copying

September 11, 2010  Star Ledger

TRENTON — Fees charged by state and local governments to provide public documents to the public will be lowered across New Jersey under a bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Chris Christie.

The legislation prevents government agencies from charging residents more than the cost of copying to obtain public documents.

The bill was backed by Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"This marks the end of a barrier that for far too long kept the public from having access to government," said ACLU-NJ Open Governance Project attorney Bobby Conner. "Now public records will be more available to everyone, not just those who can afford it."

In February, a state appellate court ruled state and local governments could charge only five cents per page for letter-sized copies and seven cents per page for legal-sized copies. The decision went into effect July 1.

"We’re gratified that a very long battle in the fight for accountability has secured greater access for the public," said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ executive director. "There’s still a long way to go before accountability weaves its way into all levels of New Jersey’s government, but this is a fundamental step."

Jacobs said she and Cryan began to form the bill after the assemblyman noticed a husband and wife were being charged a dollar per page to obtain records to fight a foreclosure notice on their home sometime in 2002.

The state Open Public Records Act previously allowed government agencies to charge 75 cents per page, a fee that Jacobs said could quickly balloon for a person trying to obtain larger documents. She cited police use of use-of-force records as an example, saying those documents are normally thousands of pages long, and would add up to a significant cost at the 75 cents per page rate.

Jacobs said the state Department of Environmental Protection opposed the bill because of the volume of public information requests it receives. It handles about 60 percent of all inquiries at the state level, she said.

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