The Mississippi Senate passed a bill that clarifies that public access to a public record will not be diminished because components of data are stored in a certain manner. Introduced by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Lee, Pontotoc, SB 2734 amends Section 25-61-10 in the state’s Public Records Act.
The bill also states that any staff time or contractual services included in the actual costs of providing records shall be at the pay scale of the lowest level employee or contractor competent to respond to the request. The bill enforces a civil penalty of $100 per violation — plus all reasonable expenses incurred by the person bringing the proceeding — against any person who charges an unreasonable fee for providing a public record. The fees shall be collected by the public body in advance of complying with the request.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary A Committee. If passed, SB 2734 will take effect on July 1.
Specifically, the law states: “Any public body that uses sensitive software, as defined in Section 25-61-9, or proprietary software, must not thereby diminish the right of the public to inspect and copy a public record. A public body that uses sensitive software, as defined in Section 25-61-9, or proprietary software to store, manipulate or retrieve a public record will not be deemed to have diminished the right of the public if it either:
- If legally obtainable, makes a copy of the software available to the public for application to the public records stored, manipulated or retrieved by the software; or
- Ensures that the software has the capacity to create an electronic copy of each public record stored, manipulated or retrieved by the software in some common format such as, but not limited to, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange.”
In addition, “1) A single record comprising fields of data stored in two or more tables or indexes shall, upon request, be provided as one complete record per line, such as a comma-separated value file, fixed-length file, tab-delimited file or similar flat file. 2) A public body shall provide a copy of the record in the format requested if the public body maintains the record in that format, and the public body may charge a fee which must be in accordance with Section 25-61-7. A request for fewer than all the data fields contained in a single record or that identifies data fields for redaction to minimize the risk of breaching privacy shall not be treated as a request for a format different than the format in which the records are stored or maintained. 3) Before a public body acquires or makes a major modification to any information technology system, equipment or software used to store, retrieve or manipulate a public record, the public body shall adequately plan for the provision of public access and redaction of exempt or confidential information by the proposed system, equipment or software. 4) A public body may not enter into a contract for the creation or maintenance of a public records database if that contract impairs the ability of the public to inspect or copy the public records of that agency, including public records that are online or stored in an information technology system used by the public body.”
Regarding the fees charged for the information, the law states: “Each public body may establish and collect fees reasonably calculated to reimburse it for, and in no case to exceed, the actual cost of searching, reviewing and/or duplicating and, if applicable, mailing copies of public records.
“A public body may establish a standard fee scale to reimburse it for the costs of creating, acquiring and maintaining a geographic information system or multipurpose cadastre as authorized and defined under Section 25-61-1 et seq., or any other electronically accessible data. Such fees must be reasonably related to the cost of creating, acquiring and maintaining the geographic information system, multipurpose cadastre or other electronically accessible data, for the data or information contained therein or taken therefrom and for any records, papers, accounts, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings or other materials, data or information relating thereto, whether in printed, digital or other format. In determining the fees or charges under this subsection, the public body may consider the type of information requested, the purpose or purposes for which the information has been requested and the commercial value of the information.”