March 28, 2005
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
As you are aware, I have received your letter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response. You referred to the fees assessed when genealogical records are requested and asked whether those records may be inspected at no cost and copies obtained for twenty-five cents each under the Freedom of Information Law.
In this regard, the Freedom of Information Law authorizes inspection of records at no charge and a fee of up to twenty-five cents per photocopy, "except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute." In the context of your question, a different statute authorizes the assessment of the fees to which you referred in your letter. Specifically, subdivision (3) of §4174 of the Public Health Law, which was amended in 2003, refers to searches for and the fees for records sought for genealogical or research purposes that may be imposed by "any person authorized" by the State Commissioner of Health, i.e., a registrar designated in a city, town or village. That provision states that:
"For any search of the files and records conducted for authorized genealogical or research purposes, the commissioner or any person authorized by him shall be entitled to, and the applicant shall pay, a fee of twenty dollars for each hour or fractional part of an hour of time for search, together with a fee of two dollars for each uncertified copy or abstract of such records requested by the applicant or for a certification that a search discloses no record."
In short, the fees envisioned by the Freedom of Information Law are not applicable with respect to requests for genealogical records.
I hope that the foregoing serves to enhance your understanding of the matter and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman