Alaska Public Records Act
- 1 Transparency report card
- 2 Features of the law
- 2.1 Declared legal intention
- 2.2 What records are covered?
- 2.3 Exemptions
- 2.4 What agencies are covered?
- 2.5 Who may request records?
- 2.6 Must a purpose be stated?
- 2.7 How can records be used?
- 2.8 Time allowed for response
- 2.9 Fees for records
- 2.10 Records commissions and ombudsmen
- 2.11 Role of the Attorney General
- 3 Open meetings
- 4 See also
- 5 External links
- 6 References
- 7 Relevant legal cases
The Alaska Public Records Act (APRA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to records of government bodies at all levels in Alaska. The law can be found in the Alaska Statutes, statute 40.25.110 - 40.25.125. As recently as 2003, the Alaskan Supreme Court said that access to public records is "a fundamental right" (see Fuller v. City of Homer).
The Alaska Open Meetings Act (AOMA) governs the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The law can be found in the Alaska Statutes, statute 44.62.310 - 44.62.470.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Alaska FOIA procedures
Transparency report card
A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Alaska three points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 48 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's transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
The Alaska Public Records Act contains no clearly distinguished declaration of legal intention. The opening lines of the law do, however, state, "Unless specifically provided otherwise, the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under reasonable rules during regular office hours."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
"Public records" are defined as "any document, paper, book, letter, drawing, map, plat, photo, photographic file, motion picture film, microfilm, microphotograph, exhibit, magnetic or paper tape, punched card, electronic record or other document of any other material, regardless of physical form or characteristic, developed or received under law or in connection with the transaction of official business."
In 1990, the state legislature amended APRA to expand the definition of public records to specifically include drafts and memorializations of conversations.
There is no exception in the law for records of the governor.
However, an Alaska deliberative process exemption originated in the courts and extends the exemption for working papers and deliberative materials to both state and local officials with the intention of protecting the free flow of information.
In 1986, in the case of Doe v. Superior Court, the Alaskan Supreme Court ruled that there is a limited "executive" or "deliberative process" privilege in the Alaska Public Records Act that protects communications between the governor and his or her aides about policy matters. This decision related to internal communications about advice, opinions and recommendations. The decision was justified using the separation of powers argument.
In 2000, Gwich'in Steering Committee v. Office of the Governor modified the justification of the deliberative process exemption. The court said the privilege is intended to "protect the mental processes of governmental decision-makers from interference."
In 2003, in Fuller v. City of Homer, the court extended the deliberative process to municipalities, given that they met the appropriate requirements. However, the court said that the City of Homer was wrong to claim that it could withhold access to staff documents under the "deliberative processes privilege," as it failed the balancing test established in City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers.
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
According to Alaska law, the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection during regular business hours. The law defines public "agency" as a "department, office, agency, state board, commission, public corporation or other organizational unit of or created under the executive branch of the state government" but specifically exempts the University of Alaska.
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
The Alaska Public Records Act does not include the legislature within its definition of public body. Instead, public records issues within the legislature are decided by the rules of the legislature and have been ruled unenforceable by the courts.
Privatized governmental agencies
The history of Alaskan case law presents one clear application of the records laws to private corporations. If a private corporation receives public funding and was established for the sole purpose of performing a public function, it is subject to the public records laws.
Who may request records?
Anyone may request records in Alaska. The law states that the records are open to the "public" but does not elaborate more on what constitutes "public." It later states that "every person" may request records.
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
According to APRA, a "public agency may not request a justification or explanation of need or intended use, but a public agency may inquire whether the person making the request is a party, or represents a party, involved in litigation with the state or a public agency to which the requested record is relevant. If so, the requestor shall be informed to make the request in accordance with applicable court rules."
The "litigation disclosure" statute in the law says, "A public record that is subject to disclosure and copying under AS 40.25.110 - 40.25.120 remains a public record subject to disclosure and copying even if the record is used for, included in or relevant to litigation, including law enforcement proceedings, involving a public agency, except that with respect to a person involved in litigation, the records sought shall be disclosed in accordance with the rules of procedure applicable in a court or an administrative adjudication.
Alaska's law governing the purpose of requests was changed in 2003 and 2006 to limit the use of records requested through APRA in litigation, encouraging the use of trial discovery rules as opposed to the APRA. In Brady v. State of Alaska, a 1998 ruling of the Alaskan Supreme Court, the court said that the part of APRA that limits the public records process for parties to lawsuits is "inexplicable" and that "an equal protection challenge to this provision "is not, at first blush, implausible."
There are still some restrictions:
- The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that in order to overcome a claim of executive or deliberative process privilege, a requester may be required to state reasons for seeking access so that the interests of the parties can be balanced against one another.
- The FOI law in Alaska has also allowed privacy exemptions, which means that if a requestor is asking for medical, personnel, payroll or other similar records where disclosure to some people might constitute what the courts have described as an "unwarranted invasion of privacy," inquiring as to the purpose of the request may be permissible.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
The APRA doesn't set limits on what can be done with documents provided under the act.
Commercial interests are allowed to use lists they receive under APRA, such as the names and addresses compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from hunting and fishing licenses, because a 1990 change in APRA provided a statutory definition of "personal information" regarding privacy exemptions and the definition says that names, addresses and listed phone numbers do not fall under the definition of personal information.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
The Alaskan law does not specify a time requirement for responding to public records requests other than that the department must give a certified copy upon payment of the fee.
Fees for records
- See also: How much do public records cost?
The fee for duplication of public records, according to law, cannot exceed the "standard unit cost of duplication established by the public agency." Public agencies are at liberty to waive fees in the public interest.
- See also: Sunshine laws and search fees
If the time required to research and collect the requested records exceeds five hours per calendar month, then the requestor is obligated to pay for the hourly labor at the rate of salary of those working. This fee must be paid prior to receiving the records and can be charged prior to the research.
Records commissions and ombudsmen
- See also: State records commissions
Alaska does not currently have a dedicated open records or open meetings commission. However, the state does have a generic Ombudsman's office, which can receive records and open meetings complaints in addition to other complaints about governmental entities.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
There is currently no provision within the state open records law that empowers the State Department of Law to enforce the right of the public to access governmental records.
The Alaska Open Meetings Act states that, "All meetings of a governmental body of a public entity of the state are open to the public." Participation in public meetings by the public may be made via teleconference, if so, materials to be considered at the meeting should also be made available at the teleconferencing location (if practicable).
- Alaska FOIA procedures
- Alaska transparency legislation
- Alaska transparency advocates
- Private agency, public dollars-Alaska
- Alaska Open Meetings Act
- Alaska Public Records Law Statutes, search for 40.25.110
- Open Government Guide to Alaska
- past articles on Alaska
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- Alaska Statute 40.25.220
- Article 2, 40.21.150(6)
- Gwich'in Steering Committee v. Office of the Governor
- Text of Fuller v. Homer
- Deliberative process exemption-Alaska
- Alaska Statute 40.21.150(1)
- Abood v. League of Women Voters, 743 P.2d 333 (Alaska 1987). via RCFP Guide to Alaska
- Alaska Statutes, 40.25.110(a) and 40.25.120(a)
- AS 40.96.220
- AS 40.96.122
- Open Government Guide to the APRA
- Alaska Statute 40.25.110(a)
- Alaska Code 45.25.110.b
- Alaska Code 45.25.110.d
- Alaska Open Meetings Act section 44.62.310
Relevant legal cases
Here is a list of lawsuits in Alaska (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).
|Anchorage School District v. Anchorage Daily News||1989|
|Brady v. State of Alaska||1998|
|Capital Information Group v. Office of the Governor||1996|
|City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers||1982|
|Doe v. Superior Court||1986|
|Fuller v. City of Homer||2003|
|Gwich'in Steering Committee v. Office of the Governor||2000|
|Municipality of Anchorage v. Anchorage Daily News||1990|
State of Alaska
|State executive officers||
Governor | Lieutenant Governor | Attorney General | Comptroller | Commissioner of the Department of Revenue | Commissioner of Education | Director of Insurance | Director of Agriculture | Commissioner of Natural Resources | Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development | Regulatory Commission |