NNA backing Electronic Court Records Reform Act

By Tonda F. Rush
NNA | Director of Public Policy

National Newspaper Association is throwing its weight behind a bill to ease the cost of obtaining federal court records.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-GA, introduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, which will require the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to consolidate its electronic filing systems and drop the fees for general public access. The bill is similar to one he introduced in late 2018.

Collins said on introduction: “Americans deserve a justice system that is transparent and accessible. I introduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act to modernize the judicial records systems and remove fee-for-access barriers that technology has rendered unnecessary.

“As an attorney and the son of a law enforcement officer, I understand how crucial it is that this legislation ensures access to a freer, fairer and more accountable judiciary,” Collins said.

He said that by requiring consolidation of different records systems, his bill would also ease burdens on lawyers and others who file or research pleadings. The legislation allows the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts two years to complete the merger of systems.

NNA Government Relations Committee Chair Matthew Paxton, publisher of The News-Gazette in Lexington, Virginia, said community newspaper reporters have come to rely upon the electronic databases when local figures wind up in court.

“The electronic access makes it so much easier for our newsrooms, whose people would no longer have to drive many miles to get to the federal courts. But the fees do make it somewhat more difficult. It is always hard to understand why we pay fees for information that is essentially free to retrieve. We appreciate Congressman Collins’ recognition of the need to open the doors to this system both for journalists and the public,” Paxton said.

The bill is HR 1164. It is co-sponsored by Reps. Phil Roe, R-TN; Mike Quigley, D-IL; and Hank Johnson, D-GA.