Democracy sale in Nebraska: 33-percent off!

Democracy sale in Nebraska: 33-percent off!

By Joe Duggan February 26, 2013 11:34 am Comments

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus frequently does practical math in public hearings and floor debates to back up his policy positions.

He did it again Monday as the Legislature debated a bill intended to bring more uniformity to the fees governmental agencies charge to provide open records to the public. Our story about the debate is here. As proposed, Legislative Bill 363 would have required records custodians to charge no fees for the first six hours of staff time spent responding to a request.

Several rural senators objected to the six-hour free pass, arguing it could put a financial burden on budget-strapped (and staff-strapped) county offices.

Schumacher, who supports the bill, put a pencil to paper and came up with the following calculation:

 Let’s say a clerk earns $25 per hour, which might be high, given that equals an annual salary of $52,000. Regardless, fulfilling a six-hour public records request at $25 per hour would cost an office $150 in labor cost. Public officials would be allowed to recoup any labor costs exceeding six hours.

Schumacher and other supporters of the bill said releasing public records is part of the job such employees are paid to do.

“That may be the cost of democracy,” he said.

Missing from the debate was information about the quantity of requests public offices receive. Nor was there an estimate on how long it takes to fulfill the average records request.

In order to move the proposal to the second round, Sen. Bill Avery, the bill’s sponsor, said he would amend the time requirement from six to four hours. That would save offices $50.

Is Avery putting democracy on sale?