MADISON — State Attorney General Brad Schimel is calling on local and state government agencies to more accurately reflect the actual costs of fulfilling open records requests, saying they cannot make a profit when charging requesters for print or digital documents.
The fees suggested by Schimel for printed pages are 1.35 cents for black and white and 6.32 cents for color pages, down from the 15 to 25 cents per page open records advocate Bill Lueders said is a common charge for requested records.
“It reminds custodians that the public is entitled to these records and they should be provided at cost,” Lueders said.
Government agencies can only statutorily charge fees for the actual cost of four tasks — reproduction and transcription, photography and photographic processing, locating and mailing or shipping records. Fees may not be charged for the time taken to redact, or black out, portions of records.
In its advisory, the Office of Open Government, which fields inquiries about open records, said it had seen a “noticeable and concerning increase in inquiries pertaining to high cost.” The Department of Justice analyzed the actual cost of printing documents to create the recommendation, according to the statement.
The DOJ often waives charges, which is also an option for other state and local government agencies, Schimel said.
The changes do not apply to court records or records from the register of probate, which charge $1.25 and $1 per page, respectively, for records, per Wisconsin statute.
Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said open records seekers will still benefit despite the continued high costs for court and register of probate records because the advisory encourages agencies — some of which he said charge 50 cents to $1 per page — to reexamine the necessary costs for fulfilling the requests.
The advisory also said any work to locate the requested documents should be charged to the “lowest paid employee capable of reviewing and locating responsive records” when charging for the time needed to collect the records. Even if the lowest paid employee is not available to conduct the search for records, the requester should only be charged at that lower rate.