Georgia Open Records Act

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The Georgia Open Records Act, or Georgia Sunshine Law, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Georgia.

The Georgia Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Georgia FOIA procedures.

Proposed changes

2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

House Bill 171 sought to exempt individual's names and contact information from public records.[1]

Senate Bill 26 sought to exempt e-mail distribution lists kept by police and fire departments from Open Records requests.[2]

Senate Bill 124 sought require that Social Security numbers be redacted from public documents.[3]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Georgia #27 in the nation with an overall percentage of 51.60%.[4]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Georgia 41 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 31 out of the 50 states.[5]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Georgia's law as the 11th best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C."[6]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The Georgia Open Records Act does not have a clear declared legal intention.

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Public records are those documents generated by individuals or groups in public office in the course of public service. Public records are also defined as "items received or maintained by a private person or entity on behalf of a public office or agency."[7]

Exemptions

Deliberative process exemption
See also: Deliberative process exemption and Deliberative process exemption - Georgia

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Government agencies that are covered by the law are "public office[s] or agenc[ies]," which are defined as "[a]ll offices, agencies or other entities that serve a 'public function,'" according to Hackworth v. Board of Education, a 1994 court case.

Agencies that are included under the act are:

  • Every state department, agency, board, bureau, commission and authority.
  • Every county, municipal corporation, school district or other political subdivision of the state.
  • Every department, agency, board, bureau, commission, authority or similar body of each such county, municipal corporation or other political subdivision of the state.
  • Every city, county, regional or other authority established pursuant to law.
  • With some exceptions, "any nonprofit organization that receives more than one third of its funds in the form of a direct allocation of tax funds from the governing authority of an agency."[8]

What agencies are not covered?

Records that are explicitly exempt under the law are:

  • Records related to the provision of staff services to individual members of the General Assembly by the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, the Senate Research Office or the House Research Office, O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(8).
  • In a 1992 case, Fathers Are Parents Too v. Hunstein, the Supreme Court said that the law does not apply to the judicial branch of the government, citing separation of powers exemptions and the long running practice of the judicial branch establishing its own rules and policing itself.
  • GIS Data is excluded from the Open Records Act

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

In a 1975 case, Coggin v. Davey, the Supreme Court exempted the legislature, under a separation of powers argument.

Court records

  • In Green v. Drinnon, a 1992 case, the court ruled that tapes of court proceedings are public records.
  • In Fathers Are Parents Too v. Hunstein in 1992, a court said that the law doesn't apply to the judicial branch of government.
  • In Atlanta Journal and Constitution v. Long, a 1988 case, a judge wrote that there is a "presumption that the public will have access to all court records."
  • In City of Helen v. White County News in 1996, a court ruled that records of settlement agreements involving government entities are subject to the law. If the settlement agreement has a confidentiality provision, that provision "is invalid and void as against the public policy of this State."[8]

Private governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars - Georgia

Private entities are considered public bodies and subject to the Public Records Act if they either receive one third of their funding from public funding or if they perform a public function.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. In addition, Red & Black Publishing Company v. Board of Regents extended the Open Records Act to student disciplinary courts in 1993.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Public records are open to "any citizen of this state," according to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(b).[9] People who are employees of nonresident corporations (corporations that are incorporated in a state other than Georgia) can exercise their rights under GORA even if he or she is doing so to share the information with his or her employer.

In 1993, the state's attorney general wrote an opinion saying that records should be open to non-residents of the state as well as residents. Recent federal court rulings have supported this opinion and overturned these laws and opened records to citizens of every state.

Impact of Lee v. Minner

In 2006, the Judgepedia:United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit) in the case Lee v. Minner rejected the constitutionality of Delaware's law that disallowed non-residents from making public record requests.

The Third Circuit's rulings apply to Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and any other state who permits access to only state citizens. As a result, the provision in the Delaware Freedom of Information Act that prohibits non-residents from access to records is likely to be considered invalid.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Case law and legislative acts have enforced the notion that requestors do not have to state a purpose when requesting public records.

  • In Northside Realty Association v. Community Relations Commission in 1978, a court ruled that a ."..citizen of Georgia seeking an opportunity to copy and inspect a public record need not show any special or personal interest therein."
  • In Parker v. Lee in 1989, a court said, .".. [there is] no reason to distinguish [a death row inmate's] (or any other individual citizen's) right of access from news organizations' right of access."
  • In 1993, the state legislature repealed a provision in the law that restricted access to records based on whether they were sought for commercial purposes.

However, in 1999, the state legislature said that access to Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident reports should be confined to people named in the reports or for those who, as defined by statute, needed the reports.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

There is no restriction on how records obtained under the law can be used, once they have been obtained.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Government agencies must either comply with or deny a written request for public records within three working days after receiving it.

Specifically, the law says that the custodian of the requested records "shall have a reasonable amount of time to determine whether or not the record or records requested are subject to access under this article and to permit inspection and copying. In no event shall this time exceed three business days."

If the custodian denies the request, the custodian must issue the denial within three days.

Fees for records

See also: How much do public records cost? and Sunshine laws and search fees

Public bodies in Georgia may charge for the cost of publication and duplication when complying with public records requests. The fee must be uniform for photo copies of records and cannot exceed $0.25 per page.[10] The law does require that a public body notify requestors of the total cost of complying with a request prior to assembling the records as a condition for charging fees.[10]

Agencies are permitted to charge a reasonable fee for search, collection and administrative costs of complying with records requests, not to exceed the salary of the lowest paid staff member who could collect the records. The first quarter hour is required to be free.[10]

Georgia State Records Committee

The Georgia State Records Committee was established by the Georgia Open Records Act in order to review and decide on what records are retained and what records are destroyed. While they do not hold hearings or decide cases about open records violations, they do possess a considerable amount of historical power, shaping what records are preserved by the state and permitting the destruction of current records.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

§ 50-17-73(b) of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) states that "the Attorney General shall have authority to bring . . . actions, either civil or criminal, in his or her discretion as may be appropriate to enforce compliance with this article" under the state's open records act.

Open meetings

All meetings shall be open to the public. A meeting is defined as "the gathering of a quorum of the members of the governing body of an agency."[11]

Notable requests

2009

See also: Notable state FOIA requests, 2009
  • The Savannah Morning News asked the Georgia attorney general's office to intervene in a dispute with Chatham County police over public access to crime reports. The newspaper said the police department was violating the Georgia Open Records Act because it stopped providing the newspaper with copies of daily, accumulated incident reports for the public and reporters to inspect.[12]
  • Through an open records request, the Atlanta Journal Constitution learned that it would cost Georgia taxpayers $1,483,641.08 to pay Dennis Felton not to coach the Bulldogs’ basketball team.

See also

External links

References

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

Here is a list of lawsuits in Georgia (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).

Lawsuit Year
Athens Newspapers, Inc., et al. v. Classic Center Authority for Clarke County 1989
Atlanta Journal and Constitution v. Long 1988
Atlanta Journal v. Babush 1988
Atlanta Journal v. Hill 1987
Beck v. Crisp County Zoning Board of Appeals 1996
Brennan v. Commissioners of Chatham County 1993
Bryan County Board of Equalization v. Bryan County Board of Tax Assessors 2001
Camden County v. Haddock 1999
City of Atlanta v. Pacific & Southern Company, Inc. 1987
City of Helen v. White County News 1996
Claxton Enterprise v. Evans County Board of Commissioners 2001
Crosland v. Butts County Board of Zoning Appeals 1994
Davis v. City of Macon 1992
Davis v. Shavers 1994
Deriso v. Cooper 1980
Dozier v. Norris 1978
Evans County Board of Commissioners v. The Claxton Enterprise 2002
Fathers Are Parents Too v. Hunstein 1992
Goddard v. City of Albany 2009
Green v. Drinnon 1992
Guthrie v. Dalton City School District 1994
Hackworth v. Board of Education 1994
Harms v. Adams 1977
Jersawitz v. Fortson 1994
Johnson v. Nicely 1988
Kilgore v. RW Page Corporation 1989
Kilgore v. RW Page Corporation, 1991 1991
Macon Telegraph v. City of Forsyth 1988
Maxwell v. Carney 2001
McLarty v. Board of Regents 1973
Moon v. Terrell County et al. 2001
News Publishing Company d/b/a Rome News-Tribune v. Board of Education of the City of Rome 1991
Newsome v. City of Union Point 1982
Northside Realty Association v. Community Relations Commission 1977
Northwest Georgia Health System, Inc. v. Times-Journal, Inc. 1995
Parker v. Lee 1989
Phillips v. Hawthorne 1998
Red & Black Publishing Company v. Board of Regents 1993
Schoen v. Cherokee County 2000
State of Georgia v. Kennedy 1985
Steele v. Honea 1991
Times-Journal, Inc., d/b/a Marietta Daily Journal v. Cobb County, et al. 1989
Walker v. City of Warner Robins 1992
Wiggins v. The Board of Commissioners of Tift County, GA 2002
Worthy v. Paulding County Hospital Authority 1979