Judge expresses reservations over fee increase for driving records

Thursday, May 29, 2008 | 10:50 p.m. CDT; updated 10:03 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A judge indicated Thursday that a sharp fee increase for Missouri’s vehicle and driver’s license records should be subject to the fee limits imposed by the state’s public-records law.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan interrupted testimony in a lawsuit challenging the fees to essentially put the state on notice that he was leaning against it, unless it could provide some justification for the fee hike under Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Effective May 1, the state began charging $7 — up from its previous $1.25 — for each vehicle or driver’s license record copied from its databases. The Department of Revenue also did away with a discount that allowed bulk purchasers to get vehicle and driver’s records for a fraction of a penny.

Businesses that buy those records in bulk are seeking a court injunction against the fee hike. They claim it violates the Sunshine Law, which limits the cost government can charge for copying records and providing them to the public.

State attorneys claim a separate federal law governing motor vehicle records means that Missouri’s Sunshine Law does not apply to vehicle and driver’s license records, meaning the state can charge whatever it deems to be reasonable.

But after several hours of testimony Thursday from business executives, a public-records expert and a Department of Revenue employee, Callahan told attorneys that the vehicle and driver’s license records do appear to be public records subject to the Sunshine Law.

Attorneys for the state requested a break from the hearing after Callahan asked whether they had any evidence justifying the fee increase under the Sunshine Law.

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