Minnesota Law Gives Public the Cold Shoulder

Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Law allows Minnesota public agencies to charge for public information that many other states give out for free. According to Section 13.03, even inspecting electronic records comes with a cost, provided that any labor is producing the records.

If the records are in electronic format, and as long as there is very little labor required to satisfy the public records request, there is no charge. But this leaves little room for free access to less accessible public records like union release time data in collective bargaining contracts, for example.

Union release time is the practice of a governmental agency granting its union employees paid time to conduct union business or go to union meetings unrelated to their jobs — a privilege that exists in numerous states across the country. Taxpayers already provide government agencies with their funding; they should not have to pay the bill for the agency’s unnecessary practice of compensating their unionized employees to do activities unrelated to their actual jobs, and for private entities like unions, no less.

Trey Kovacs has posted details on Kentucky release timeMaryland release time, and Ohio release time. Release time is also a major problem on the federal level, costing taxpayers $155 million in 2011. The cost to taxpayers has obviously increased since then but that cost is difficult to quantify because the Obama administration has been less than transparent about reporting or keeping records of release time.

Obtaining details about release time would most likely require a minimal amount of searching in Minnesota — so would any other information that requires the compliance of multiple groups outside the state agency. So, when a member of the public is trying to learn the details about the many Minnesotan bargaining contracts that grant taxpayer-funded release time to union members, there is a high probability that a significant cost will be imposed on them. The Center for the American Experiment — a Minnesotan policy center – confirms that even the cost for obtaining electronic records often “seems absurdly high.”

This is unfortunate since many collective bargaining contracts in Minnesota grant release time even for union members to distribute union newsletters and post union notices during their work hours. But without paying an arm and leg, the public cannot know how much of their tax money is funding these activities.

Washington, Missouri, and many other states waive fees for public information requests as long as those requests are not for commercial purposes. Minnesota should reform its Government Data Practices Law so that members of the public don’t have to empty their wallets for information that requires minimal labor. The law should also be reformed so that taxpayers don’t have to pay even more money to be informed about how much of their money is going to pay government employees distributing their union’s newsletters during working hours.

For more examples of Minnesota collective bargaining contracts that include release time, click herehere, and here, but don’t expect to uncover the details of such release time without a blow to your wallet…