CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Keeping costs of Freedom of Information requests down for the public and the press remains a goal for incoming House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead.
Meanwhile, Armstead sounds as if he would back legislation to seal applications for concealed weapon permits from public dissemination, although such a measure isn’t on the front burner at the upcoming legislative session.
Armstead, WVU Law Professor Pat McGinley and Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, were part of a panel discussing Freedom of Information Act issues on Monday in Charleston as part of the West Virginia AP Legislative Lookahead held at The Charleston Gazette’s conference center in its parking garage.
Smith noted that costs of FOIA requests can vary widely from place to place. For instance, the West Virginia Press Association recently mailed out a simple FOIA survey to county sheriff’s departments, and many were willing to provide the information at minimal cost. But in a few instances, officials said the cost would be based on the number of hours worked, and they added that those hours would be calculated on an overtime rate.
“An FOIA request is part of their job,” Smith said. “Why should we be billed at the overtime rate?
I don’t think we should be charged at all.”
Smith added that a recent decision allowing state agencies to charge higher prices for public record requests has had a chilling effect on some journalism in the state.
“We see a lot of papers saying, ‘We’re just not willing to pay that cost.’ That’s very scary for us…