Wick Communications

A vexing change

In Media law on 20 Aug 2010 at 8:23 am

Hey, are you a vexatious requester? Boy, I sure am. Just ask any of the aggrieved bureaucrats I’ve bugged for some document tucked in some back file somewhere.

The term “vexatious requester” surfaced in a new law passed earlier this year in Hawaii. That may seem a long way from your day-to-day concerns, but it could spread off the island, like Kona coffee and ukulele music.

The law is a response to multiple or substantially similar requests from individuals who are sure the nation’s 50th state holds some secret regarding President Barack Obama’s birth. You may recall, some folks are sure that he wasn’t actually born in the United States, and apparently some of these conspiracy theorists have been besieging the state’s health department with open records requests.

The law states that agencies can ignore such fishing expeditions that are largely repetitive and waste government time. For journalists, that could prove a problem. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the law defines “vexatious requester” as someone who files multiple requests that “after a good faith review and comparison” are “duplicative or substantially similar in nature.” …

That certainly leaves a lot of discretion for government workers who may simply not want to do the legwork. As attorney Jeffrey Portnoy told the committee, “The bill may potentially impact journalists’ requests.”

More troubling, it may catch on. I can see the state of Alaska making a similar judgment about Sarah Palin’s records or Louisiana deciding that all those records about the response to Katrina are better left alone. After all, everyone is looking to save money.

It’s just something to watch.



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