Georgia Open Records Act
- 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 What agencies are covered?
- 3.4 Who may request records?
- 3.5 Must a purpose be stated?
- 3.6 How can records be used?
- 3.7 Time allowed for response
- 3.8 Fees for records
- 3.9 Georgia State Records Committee
- 3.10 Role of the Attorney General
- 4 Open meetings
- 5 Notable requests
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
- 9 Relevant legal cases
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.
House Bill 171 sought to exempt individual's names and contact information from public records.
Senate Bill 26 sought to exempt e-mail distribution lists kept by police and fire departments from Open Records requests.
Senate Bill 124 sought require that Social Security numbers be redacted from public documents.
Transparency report card
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.
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 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."
Deliberative process exemption
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."
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
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
In a 1975 case, Coggin v. Davey, the Supreme Court exempted the legislature, under a separation of powers argument.
- 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."
Private governmental agencies
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.
- 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?
Public records are open to "any citizen of this state," according to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(b). 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 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
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. 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.
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.
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.
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Georgia State Records Committee
- Georgia FOIA procedures
- Georgia transparency advocates
- Georgia transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Georgia
- Georgia Open Meetings Act
- Georgia Code, see Title 50, Chapter 18, Article 4(courtesy of Lexis Nexis)
- Open Government Guide to Georgia
- Old articles on Georgia
- SB 26
- Text of SB124
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- Georgia Code Title 50, Chapter 18, Article 4
- Open Government Guide to Georgia Open Records Act
- Georgia Code 50-18-70 (b)
- GA Code § 50-18-71
- Georgia Code Title 50, Chapter 14, Section 1
- "2 cities withholding some crime information," January 8, 2009
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).
|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|
State of Georgia
|State executive officers||
Governor | Lieutenant Governor | Attorney General | Secretary of State | Treasurer | State Auditor | State Superintendent of Schools | Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner | Commissioner of Agriculture | Commissioner of Natural Resources | Commissioner of Labor | Chairman of Public Service Commission |