Alabama Public Records Law
- 1 Proposed changes
- 2 Transparency report card
- 3 Features of the law
- 3.1 Declared legal intention
- 3.2 What records are covered?
- 3.3 Exemptions
- 3.4 What agencies are covered?
- 3.5 Who may request records?
- 3.6 Must a purpose be stated?
- 3.7 How can records be used?
- 3.8 Time allowed for response
- 3.9 Fees for records
- 3.10 Records commissions and ombudsmen
- 3.11 Role of the Attorney General
- 4 Open meetings
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
- 7 References
- 8 Relevant legal cases
The Alabama Public Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the records of government bodies at all levels in Alabama. The law can be found at statutes 36.12.40-41 and 41.13.1 - 41.13.44 of the Code of Alabama. The law was first enacted in 1923.
The Alabama Open Meetings Act governs the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The law can be found at statutes 36.25A.1 - 36.25A.11 of the Code of Alabama.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Alabama FOIA procedures
House Bill 154 sought to prohibit the transferring of funds from one political action committee to another. It was passed in the House on February 12, 2009 and sent to the Senate as Senate Bill 207, where it was assigned to the Constitutions and Election Committee. The Alabama legislature has passed bills banning the transfer of these funds among political action committees each year beginning in 2000, but the bills have never become law.
House Bill 295 would have required the public disclosure of the names of public officials, spouses of public officials or candidates who have a contract with or are employed by the state, county or a municipality. It was assigned to the Government Operations Committee on February 26, 2009. Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 208.
House Bill 876 sought to make poll lists signed by voters the property of political parties and thereby subject to the open records law.
Senate Bill 207 was the companion bill to House Bill 154.
Senate Bill 208 was the companion bill to House Bill 295. It was assigned to the Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committees in the Senate.
Senate Bill 353 would have made any meeting in which a state party participates subject to the state's Open Meetings Act.
Senate Bill 399 sought to make background checks performed on employees of secondary education institutions confidential and not subject to public records laws. It was assigned to the Education Committee in the Senate.
Transparency report card
A 2008 study, the BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Alabama #48 in the nation with an overall percentage of 34.90% in regards to transparency.
A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Alabama 0 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 49 out of the 50 states.
Features of the law
- Compare States: Sunshine variations
- Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
The Alabama law does not have a clear declaration of philosophical intention. The law does state that "Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
Public records are defined by the Code of Alabama as "all written, typed or printed books, papers, letters, documents and maps made or received in pursuance of law by the public officers of the state, counties, municipalities and other subdivisions of government in the transactions of public business and shall also include any record authorized to be made by any law of this state belonging or pertaining to any court of record or any other public record authorized by law or any paper, pleading, exhibit or other writing filed with, in or by any such court, office or officer."
Exemptions to the definition of public records include the records of library materials checked out by library patrons (except in the case of minors, whose parents may request records) and records relating to the security of individuals and infrastructure.
Deliberative process exemption
Alabama law does not currently contain a deliberative process exemption for any office.
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
The Alabama code provides an expansive definition to "public officers," which includes not only elected or appointed officials but also "all persons whatsoever occupying positions in state institutions."
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
The Alabama Public Records Law is ambiguous as to whether the law applies to the legislature. However, the broad definition of public body would presumably include state legislators.
Private governmental agencies
The history of Alabama case law lends itself to two clear applications of public records laws to non-profits or private entities. The first application only requires that a private corporation function as a public body but recommends that a court consider the origin of the corporation, how it presented itself and the degree of control that a public body has over the corporation as additional factors that aid in their determination. The second application requires that a corporation be funded, created, controlled and function as a public body for it to be considered a public body.
- See also: Universities and open records
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. This presumption has been confirmed by a few court cases, including Birmingham News Co. v. Muse, which held that NCAA letters of inquiry submitted to the university are public, and The Advertiser Co. v. Lee, which held that NCAA self-reported violations were public.
Who may request records?
The Alabama Public Records Law states that, "Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute."
Alabama grants every "citizen" the right to access open records. It is unclear whether "citizen" indicates citizens of the state of Alabama or U.S. citizens.
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
The official Alabama code indicates that no purpose must be stated in order to request open records. However, a number of lawsuits have altered this. In Holcombe v. State ex rel. Chandler the judgepedia:Alabama Supreme Court ruled that records may not be requested for mere "idle curiosity." Further, a 1991 decision, Blankenship v. City of Hoover, affirmed the right of departments to inquire as to the reason for a public records request.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
The official Alabama code does not impose any limitations on the use of records.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
There are no established time requirements within the Alabama code other than that public officers are required to surrender the records once they have received the appropriate fees.
Fees for records
The fee structures are left to the discretion of the public records official within the department from whom the records are requested.
The Alabama law does not encourage the use of search fees nor does it prevent public bodies from charging them. The act is silent as to the appropriate use of fees.
Records commissions and ombudsmen
- See also: State records commissions
The Alabama State Records Commission was established in 1955 by the Alabama Public Records Law in order to determine what records to keep and which are to be destroyed. In 1987 the legislature created the Alabama Local Government Records Commission in order to serve the same function for local government records.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
State open records laws do not give the state Attorney General a specific role to play within the enforcement of the measure. That said, however, the state Attorney General could potentially be called upon to prosecute violators of the open records law under the Code of Alabama 1975, § 13A-10-12, which addresses tampering with governmental records.
- See also: Alabama Open Meetings Act
The purpose of the Alabama Open Meetings Act reads as follows: "It is the policy of this state that the deliberative process of governmental bodies shall be open to the public during meetings" and "[e]xcept for executive sessions permitted in Section 36-25A-7(a) or as otherwise expressly provided by other federal or state statutes, all meetings of a governmental body shall be open to the public and no meetings of a governmental body may be held without providing notice."
- Alabama State Records Commission
- Alabama Local Government Records Commission
- Alabama FOIA procedures
- Alabama transparency legislation
- Alabama transparency advocates
- Private agency, public dollars-Alabama
- Alabama Open Meetings Act
- Code of Alabama public records statute found at 41-13.
- Open Government Guide to Alabama
- Past articles on Alabama
- Text & Status of HB154
- The Birmingham News, "Alabama House again approves PAC transfer ban," February 13, 2009
- Text & Status of HB295
- Text & Status of SB208
- Text & Status of HB876
- Text & Status of SB207
- Text & Status of SB353
- Text & Status of SB399
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- Alabama Code 36-12-40
- Alabama Code 36-12-1
- Alabama Code 36-12-41
- Code of Alabama, 13A-10-12
- Code of Alabama, 36-25A-1
Relevant legal cases
Here is a list of lawsuits in Alabama (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading)
|Blankenship v. City of Hoover||1991|
|Brewer v. Watson (Brewer III)||1882|
|Chambers v. Birmingham News Co||1989|
|Dale v. Birmingham News||1984|
|Dunn v. Alabama State University Board of Trustees||1993|
|Holcombe v. State ex rel. Chandler||1941|
|Miglionico v. Birmingham News Company||1979|
|Montgomery Advertiser v. Montgomery County Board of Education||1991|
|Slawson & Furman v. Alabama Forestry Commission||1994|
|Stone v. Consolidated Publishing Co||1981|
|Water Works & Sewer Board of the City of Talladega v. Consolidated Publishing Inc.||2004|
State of Alabama
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