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July 12, 2004     (512) 463-0300

SENATE COMMITTEE EXAMINES RECORDS ISSUES

The Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations is examining the fees charged by County Clerks when they receive requests for copies of public documents. Ms. Hadassah Schloss from the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, testified that her agency helps local governments decide how much to charge so that they can recover their costs. During this interim the committee is studying all local and state document fees and whether legislation that might change those fees is needed. She recommended that certain standard fees do need to be established statewide.

Some counties that have outsourced their records management have been charged large fees by outside companies for retrieving data. They are also finding widely varying charges for data storage and retrieval of electronic records.

Denton County Clerk Cynthia Mitchell testified that readily accessible records should be exempt from the public records act, since they are always available for inspection. That would mean the local clerks could set their own rates for copying. She said that verifying information as it is electronically copied is the majority of the cost, because verification can take so much time.

James Sibley, President of the Data Title Company, said his company is dependent on this information for their business. He testified that copying fees around a dollar a page would cripple them, since their rates are regulated. He urged the committee to keep those readily accessible records under the Public Information Act, saying this helps to keep rates low. Allen Place, Jr., of the Brown Abstract Company also supported keeping the Open Records Act as is. He also described how the costs of getting documents was a substantial part of title insurance costs.

During public testimony Katherine Kerry, from the Attorney General's Office, testified that when public records are turned over to the private sector for management, establishing costs for copying became a problem. She said that recently clerks have either overcharged the Attorney General, or have simply refused to supply the records and that she has "hundreds" of complaints about the issue. Other witnesses complained about the charges from local county clerks for records as well.

The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations is chaired by Senator Frank Madla. Members include Senators Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, Mario Gallegos and Jeff Wentworth. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

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