Committee: JudiciarySponsor: Orr
Analyst: Jessica PerezDate: 04/01/2021

FISCAL NOTE

Senate Bill 165 as introduced and as amended and reported by the Committee on Judiciary creates the Alabama Open Records Act to establish a process for requesting public records from a governmental body and requires governmental bodies to adopt rules and designate a custodian of records. This bill requires every governmental body to: (1) make available to requestors public records at a reasonable costs pursuant to the provisions of this bill; and (2) publish the procedures for requesting public records on their website. These requests would increase the administrative obligations of governmental bodies by an undetermined amount dependent upon the number of requests made; however, any increased obligations would be offset from filing fees and other fees authorized to be collected from the requestor to produce public records.

This bill establishes the Office of Public Access Counselor within the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts and requires the Department to designate a person to serve as Counselor, which would increase the financial and administrative obligations of the Department by an undetermined amount dependent upon the salary fixed by the Department for the Public Access Counselor and the administrative costs associated with implementing the provisions of this bill as follows: (1) prepare interpretive and educational materials and programs; and (2) issue advisory opinions, with the Attorney Generalís assistance, which could increase the obligations of the Attorney Generalís Office by an undetermined amount dependent upon the level of assistance required.

This bill further provides that for an appeal filed with the counselor, a filing fee of $100 is required and if a custodian fails to respond to a public record request or the counselor rules that any public record or portion of a public record was improperly withheld, the counselor shall order the custodian to pay $100 to the requestor.††

In addition, this bill provides that a civil action can be filed, by any requestor to enforce this act or by any custodian or requestor to appeal an adverse decision by the counselor, in circuit court where the records in question are situated, or where the alleged violation of this act occurred, or in the circuit court of Montgomery County, which could increase receipts to the State General Fund, county general funds, municipal general funds, and other funds to which court costs are deposited by an undetermined amount dependent upon the number of civil actions filed and the cost of each action.†

This bill provides that civil penalties, levied against custodians that fail to respond to a record request or intentionally withheld a public record without a reasonable justification, are deposited into the state general fund, which could increase receipts dependent upon the number of violations, and the amount of the civil penalties imposed. This bill allows a governmental body to pay for or provide for the legal expenses of the custodian, and to reimburse any costs or fees owed to the plaintiff. This bill provides that proceedings initiated under this act shall be given precedence over all other cases in the circuit and appellate courts.†

Finally, this bill would establish a Class C misdemeanor, punishable up to $1,000 per each violation, for any requestor who intentionally makes a false statement during a request for public records or during an appeal, which could increase receipts to the State General Fund and municipal general funds from fines; increase receipts to the State General Fund, county general funds, municipal general funds, and other funds to which court costs are deposited; and could increase the obligations of the State General Fund, district attorneys, and local jails by an undetermined amount dependent upon the number of persons charged with and convicted of the offenses provided by this bill and the penalties imposed.


Tom Whatley, Chairperson
Judiciary