Special Report { High fees are keeping public information secret.

Hawaii's Public Records: What Can Hawaii Learn From Other States?

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

Editor's Note: Read Civil Beat's series on the cost of Hawaii's public records here.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel received a $4,500 bill from the city’s police department for access to public crime data, the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper refused to cut a check. Instead it filed a lawsuit.

The Milwaukee Police Department wanted the paper to pay the price for redacting information from 750 incident reports, but the Journal Sentinel argued that the charge blocked public access and violated the state’s public records law.

The case went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the justices unanimously ruled that information should be released to the newspaper without having to pay for the redactions. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson made clear in her opinion that excessive fees for public records diminish transparency and hinder the ability of citizens to monitor their government.

“This case is not about a direct denial of public access to records, but the issue in the present case directly implicates the accessibility of government records,” Abrahamson said. “The greater the fee imposed on a requester of a public record, the less likely the requester will be willing and able to successfully make a record request.”

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