A&A: What’s meant by “electronic form” documents under the CPRA?

Q: I requested a copy of the CA Jobs Bill Fund Report from my local school district. I received an oversimplified copy of the report so I asked for the website address for the complete report. I was told the website was password protected and therefore I was not granted access.  Would a document with restricted access be considered an “electronic form” if they printed it from a website that I cannot access and it looks like it is a template from the California Dept. of Education? Under the CPRA, what is meant by “electronic form” documents?  Is that on a CD?

A: If I understand your inquiry correctly, the school district only gave you a simplified version of a report, and you believe that the district has the full report, which you did not receive, in electronic format.

Under the Public Records Act, “unless otherwise prohibited by law,” if an agency “has information that constitutes an identifiable public record not exempt from disclosure pursuant to this chapter that is in an electronic format,” the agency must “make that information available in an electronic format when requested by any person.” Gov’t Code § 6253.9.

The default rule for electronic records is that “[t]he cost of duplication shall be limited to the direct cost of producing a copy of a record in an electronic format.” Id. But if the request entails producing a record that the agency would otherwise produce only at “regularly scheduled intervals” or if the request “would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record,” then “the requester shall bear the cost of producing a copy of the record, including the cost to construct a record, and the cost of programming and computer services necessary to produce a copy of the record.” Id.

Thus, in your situation, it would seem that if the school district retains the report in electronic format on its non-public website, it should make you an electronic copy of the report (transferring it to CD may be the simplest option) for a reasonable fee that covers the direct cost of duplication.

If it turns out that there are technical barriers that make it impossible to make an electronic copy without incurring significant expenses that you would not want to cover, another option might be to simply spell out the information that would need to be included in a non-electronic version in order for it to be sufficient for your needs.

You might consider pointing the school district to Section 6253.9 of the Government Code and ask that the report be given to you in electronic form, specifically on a CD, for which you would pay the direct cost of duplication (i.e., the cost of the blank CD).

You can find more information about the Public Records Act, including a sample request letter, at the First Amendment Coalition web site at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/category/resources/access-to-records/.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.