By Attorneys Jenna Sabroske and Emily Kolbe
The ability of public entities to recover costs incurred in responding to open records requests has been a topic of debate in recent legislative sessions. During the 2022 legislative session, the Iowa Legislature amended Iowa Code Chapter 22, Iowa’s Open Records Law, to clarify the expenses that public entities can charge in connection with responses to open records requests under Iowa Code Chapter 22. The legislation was passed as Senate File 2322 and signed into law by Governor Reynolds on May 2, 2022. The amendment will go into effect beginning July 1, 2022.
Senate File 2322 makes three primary changes to Iowa Code Section 22.3, as follows:
For documents that can be produced in less than 30 minutes, the new law requires that the custodian of public records “make every reasonable effort to provide the public record requested at no cost other than copying costs.”
The new law limits all fees charged to “reasonable” expenses, provided the amount of the expenses are communicated to the person requesting the documents. This is unlikely to result in any change from current best practices related to fees charged to produce responsive documents. The person requesting documents is required to pay all reasonable expenses; however, they may challenge the reasonableness of requested expenses.
Lastly, the new law provides that fees for legal services in connection with the production of records should be limited to “the redaction or review of legally protected confidential information.” This is unlikely to result in any significant change from current best practices.
It is important for public entities to be aware of Chapter 22’s limitations on fees charged for production of documents responsive to an open records request, including the new amendment to the statute.
The critical takeaway of this amendment is to avoid assessing a fee to requesters for responsive documents that can be produced in less than 30 minutes, absent unusual circumstances. Examples of such documents could include specific meeting minutes or agendas, executed contracts, or other stand-alone document requests. Determining what expenses are reasonable will necessarily depend on the overall scope and content of an individual request.
This change in the law is unlikely to require many public entities to make significant changes to their existing open records request policies and practices. However, this amendment to Iowa Code Chapter 22 is a good reminder to review existing open records request policies and practices, and may present a good opportunity to adopt a formal open records requests policy if your entity has not previously done so. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel to determine whether this bill requires any changes to your entity’s existing open records request policies and procedures.
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