Open Records Laws – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Media Law and Ethics Glossary Terms

What are Open Records Laws?

Open Records Laws, also known as Sunshine Laws or Freedom of Information Acts, are laws that require government agencies to make their records and documents available to the public. These laws are designed to promote transparency and accountability in government by allowing citizens to access information about how their tax dollars are being spent and how decisions are being made.

How do Open Records Laws work?

Open Records Laws typically require government agencies to respond to requests for records within a certain timeframe, usually a few days to a few weeks. Agencies are generally required to provide the requested records in the format requested by the requester, whether that be in paper form, electronic form, or another format.

What information is covered under Open Records Laws?

Open Records Laws generally cover a wide range of information, including government budgets, meeting minutes, contracts, emails, and other documents created or received by government agencies in the course of their work. However, there are some exceptions to what information is covered under these laws, which we will discuss in the next section.

Who can request records under Open Records Laws?

In most cases, any member of the public can request records under Open Records Laws. This includes individuals, businesses, journalists, and other organizations. Some states may have specific requirements for who can request records, such as being a resident of the state or having a legitimate interest in the information being requested.

What are the exceptions to Open Records Laws?

While Open Records Laws are designed to promote transparency, there are some exceptions to what information government agencies are required to disclose. Common exceptions include records that contain personal information, such as social security numbers or medical records, records that are part of an ongoing investigation, and records that are considered confidential for national security reasons.

How are disputes resolved under Open Records Laws?

If a government agency denies a request for records, the requester can often appeal the decision to a higher authority, such as a state attorney general or a court. Some states have specific procedures for resolving disputes under Open Records Laws, such as mediation or arbitration. In some cases, the requester may be required to pay legal fees if they lose the dispute.