Must I pay for copying in advance?
Q: I recently received a reply to a public records request. I am concerned by a line in the letter that requires advance payment for copies of public records. This is fully reasonable if the agency tells the requestor the amount owed, and requires payment, before the documents are photocopied. However, I just heard a horror story of a state agency requiring hundreds of dollars as an up front deposit, before the agency looks for the documents or knows the scope of what must be copied. This money is then applied to whatever the photocopying balance is, and then any extra is presumably refunded. This sort of policy disproportionately impacts poor citizens and may prevent them from utilizing the Public Records Act. Is this legal? If legal, who should I contact to try to get this changed?
A: The California Public Records Act provides that “[e]xcept with respect to public records exempt from disclosure by express provisions of law, each state or local agency, upon a request for a copy of records that reasonably describes an identifiable record or records, shall make the records promptly available to any person upon payment of fees covering direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable.” Cal. Gov’t. Code Section 6253(b).
We are unaware of any provision of the Act that expressly authorizes or prohibits upfront payment for copies of public records. However, requiring a payment that unreasonably exceeds the estimated costs for copies, even if some of it will be refunded, does appear to be a violation of the Act.
I hope this information helps.