CT SPJ testimony on House Bill 5175 regarding FOIA appeals

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists would like to submit the following testimony regarding HB 5175, An Act Concerning Appeals Under the Freedom of Information Act.

We stand in strong opposition to this bill so long as it proposes a filing fee on FOI complaints. CT SPJ opposes any effort to levy a fee on FOI complaints, but $125 per filing is excessive.

Such a fee would provide an incentive for municipalities to deny requests for information it doesn’t wish to disclose. Furthermore, it is punitive to the public whenever municipal officials have not been given adequate training on the FOI act, and thus aren’t familiar with all of the requirements.

Please don’t forget that the FOI act also dictates the public’s access to both documents and meetings of government boards and agencies. That means people with a broad range of experience and access to resources, such as legal counsel, decide whether to grant or deny public access at any given time.

We understand that budget constraints have made it difficult for some municipalities to process frequent FOI requests, and for the FOI Commission to adjudicate complaints in a timely manner. We therefore support the stated of intent of the bill, which is to “permit the Freedom of Information Commission to grant relief from vexatious requesters to public agencies.”

Connecticut SPJ does support the changes proposed in section 5 of this bill, which give the Commission some flexibility to address vexatious complaints. Furthermore, the language appears to give that flexibility to the Commission, and relief to municipalities, without prohibiting or deterring the public from exercising its right to access information.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony,

Mike Savino

President, Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists

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