Electronic filing bill could erode access to court records

Accessing court records could take longer and cost more if an electronic-filing measure making its way through the Georgia General Assembly passes in its current form. House Bill 15 tops the “negative” bills detailed in our updated Legislative Watch.

The bill requires electronic filing of most civil court records, but it contains no provision for protecting public access to such filings in a timely way — either at the courthouse or electronically. Instead, it arguably makes court records, now available to the public upon filing, subject to the state Open Records Act. That could enable a three-day waiting period, as well as other exemptions.

In addition, the bill might be interpreted to allow a charge up to $7 “per transaction” to inspect court records electronically, which could drive up costs for citizens seeking court records and chill public access.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation would like to see House Bill 15 modified with provisions that:

  • Require clerks to keep free terminals or other means of free access to recently filed court records soon after filing.
  • Provide reasonably priced electronic access to members of the public.
  • Remove all references to the state Open Records Act.

Read our updated Legislative Watch to find out more about House Bill 15, including its sponsors, and get details on other proposals that would conceal potential conflicts of interests by donors to rural hospitals; reinforce public access to school accreditation records; increase transparency in state pardon and parole processes; and have other effects — negative and positive — on the openness and transparency of government in Georgia.

To stand a chance of becoming law, bills must move from the originating chamber to the other one by Crossover Day, March 3, 2017.

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