The Florida constitution guarantees a right of access to public records to every person. However, special service charges for public records restrict access to requestors with the financial resources to pay for requests — or the the means to sue for an unreasonable charge.
Some states and the federal Freedom of Information Act waive fees for requests made in the public interest. FOIA considers a request in the public interest if the request is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government. Government officials opposed to a fee waiver contend that waiving fees would overwhelm the agency.
First Amendment Foundation staff attorney, Virginia Hamrick, reviewed logs of public records requests made to five Florida agencies and found that only 14% would be entitled to a fee waiver for request made in the public interest by nonprofit organizations or journalists. Just 4% of the total request made to these agencies were by journalists. A fee waiver for request made in the public interest would have a minimal effect on agencies.
Hamrick submitted the paper to the National Freedom of Information Coalition research paper contest. It was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Civic Information.