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Friday, May 30, 2008

Judge Smacks Down Higher Records Fees in MO

A Cole County judge on Friday voided a fee increase for Missouri driver and motor vehicle records.

Several companies that routinely purchase the records sued the Department of Revenue earlier this month, alleging that the new fee structure violated open-records law and raised constitutional concerns.

On May 1, per-record fees rose to $7, from $1.25. The department also eliminated bulk discounts, which had allowed purchase of database files containing tens of thousands of records for fractions of a penny per record.

The lawsuit contends that the Department of Revenue violated the Sunshine Law by raising fees above the actual cost of providing the record. According to the law, fees must cover only the cost of copies and the staff time needed to provide the copy, not the creation or maintenance of the record.

Department of Revenue officials have said the fee increase is intended to finance the purchase of a new, multimillion-dollar database system. They argue, however, that driver and motor-vehicle records are not open records and thus not covered by the Sunshine Law.

Judge Richard Callahan slapped down the department’s defense in open court on Thursday, telling lawyers that he interpreted the phrase “public records” to include all government records, whether they were open to the public or not.

More here.

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