Attorney Steven Sandven posts his bills in the Rapid City Journal... his open-records bills, that is, from the state of South Dakota:
Sioux Falls attorney Steven Sandven could buy a new car with the $20,000 South Dakota officials want to charge him for requesting public records on the federal money-for-green-cards EB-5 program. The state Board of Regents wants to charge $15,835 to find EB-5 related documents, and the state has already charged him $4,098 for records from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, or the GOED.
That figure comes from the amount of hours that the office's deputy commissioner, Nathan Lukkes, believes it will take to locate the records Sandven requested, and to confirm that they are public documents. Lukkes is charging Sandven $46 per hour — the hourly rate of Lukkes' salary, $77,976, including benefits.
"I'm having to buy everything but his lunch," Sandven said over the phone in early January [Joe O'Sullivan, "State Charging $20,000 for EB-5 Records Request," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.09].
According to O'Sullivan's report, that high price doesn't expedite service; Sandven says he's been told he'll have to wait until May for satisfaction of his requests. The state also won't help Sandven save costs on delivery:
He has also been told he must drive to Aberdeen, which is around 200 miles from Sioux Falls, to pick up records from Northern State University, where a private company collected tens of millions of dollars in EB-5 money for South Dakota projects.
The university won't email the records due to "security reasons," according to Sandven.
"Which is ridiculous," he said. "We file all our court documents electronically now" [O'Sullivan, 2014.02.09].
Sandven testified to the "inconsistent" and "excessive" fees various state agencies charge for access to public records Wednesday before the House State Affairs Committee in support of Rep. Bernie Hunhoff's House Bill 1139, which sought to cap public records request service fees at $10 per hour. Rep. Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) told the committee HB 1139 was moderate compared to other states: Idaho gives public-record requestors two hours and 100 pages for free; Delaware gives 20 pages for free, then charges 10 cents per subsequent page. Rep. Hunhoff struck a Madvillian note, stating that the real answer to high public records costs by putting more records online.
The state responded, via Emily Ward of the Bureau of Finance and Management, Tony Venhuizen of the Governor's office, and Jim Shekelton of the Board of Regents' legal office, that $10 and hour isn't enough to cover dedicating a mere minimum-wage employee to reviewing and editing the documents in some of the more complicated open records requests. Venhuizen said state agencies already respond to the vast majority of open records requests for free. Ward acknowledged that the public already pays for normal state government operations but that state employees have too many other functions to carry out to be able to spend three out of five days a week riffling through the file cabinets for us. Attorney Shekelton said open records laws are great but that we didn't create them to subsidize either out-state businesses (some of whom he cited as making their living compiling and marketing data about university athletics) or the discovery practices of lawyers.
The Republicans on House State Affairs agreed with the state and killed HB 1139 on a 9-to-4 vote. Sandven will have to put off buying that new car.