A proposed change to the state’s open records law would label some requests “frivolous and abusive,” limiting the number of open records requests people could make in a year.
The proposal, pushed by Fulton County attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker, would limit requests to the same agency from people who are not members of the media to 15 a year. People would not be able to make more than two open records requests during any 10-day period.
Currently, there are no limits to how many or how frequently requests can be made.
According to the proposal, those who violate the law could be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined $1,000 for the first violation of making additional requests. Additional violations within a year could be fined $2,500 each.
Perkins-Hooker did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon. But in Wednesday’s Fulton County Commission meeting, where the proposal was first presented, she said she had discussed the issue with the attorney general’s office.
Members of that office “did agree to the concept,” she said. A spokesperson for the attorney general said the office had no comment about the proposal.
“There are numerous people who just repeatedly fire off open records act information, sometimes abusively, with regard to the language they use, with regard to the tone they take to the people they submit the request to, and they have no legitimate purpose,” Perkins-Hooker said. “We did not have a provision to stop the county from running around in circles.”
County commissioners expressed sympathy for the county attorney’s plight, but said they needed more information before they could support a change. Commissioner Joan Garner questioned who would determine what makes something frivolous, saying she didn’t know that commissioners should judge that.
And Vice Chairman Liz Hausmann questioned why a provision in the law that requires payment for records didn’t reduce the problem. If a record will cost more than $25, the county can confirm with the recipient that he or she is willing to pay it before work on gathering the records begins. And if it will cost more than $500, the county can demand payment in advance. Those provisions were meant to discourage requests from people who were not willing to pay for them.
Perkins-Hooker said some requesters were asking for electronic records, which don’t have a cost to produce them, aside from the employee’s time. Perkins-Hooker said the county “needed some way to stop people” she referred to as “frequent fliers.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to sign on to this idea,” Hausmann said. “I don’t want us to be deemed as trying to do anything that’s not transparent.”
Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said the proposed law “cuts the citizens out of the process.” She said her group would vigorously fight the proposal.
“It’s among the worst ideas I’ve ever reviewed as leader of the First Amendment Foundation,” Manheimer said. “It blatantly undermines the whole concept of democracy, to clamp down on citizens who are seeking to get information.”