As Tucson private investigators, our livelihood depends in large part on continued access to public records. Fortunately for private investigators and other professions that rely on this access, maintaining a transparent government is a founding principle of this nation. Finding an old court case, police report, department memo or any other public record can often make or break a case. It is, in many instances, the lifeblood of a thorough investigation. Therefore, we pay close attention when access to public records is threatened.
Recently, members of the Arizona state legislature have floated potential changes to Arizona public record laws. Though these changes were merely proposed, they could have served as an indicator that public favor was trending away from allowing private citizens to obtain insight into the workings of our government. This, of course, would have been unfortunate news for those who rely on public records statutes to conduct their work – namely journalists and private investigators. However, Arizonans balked at these proposals, and questioned the wisdom of limiting access to records.
A bill, proposed by state senator Don Shooter (R – Yuma) which would have limited so called “fishing expeditions” – i.e large, non-specific requests for public records – on the theory that they are burdensome to state and local governments was met with disapproval from the general public and subsequently shelved. Shooter’s bill would have allowed local governments to refuse to fulfill requests deemed “unduly burdensome.” This, on it’s face may sound acceptable (local governments are, of course, faced with ever-intensifying budget crises). However, the bill would have transferred too much discretion in deciding whether or not records requests should be fulfilled to local governments. Hypothetically, individuals residing in a municipality with a smaller records staff (and thus a lower threshold for being “unduly burdened”) would have had more trouble obtaining records than their counterparts in major metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson.
That the bill was shelved is, of course, good news for those whose ability to ply their trade relies upon access to public records. But it is also a victory for those who greatly value the transparency of their local government agencies.
If you have a case that requires public records research, call the Tucson private investigators at Inter-State Investigative Services at (520) 882-2723.