Montana Public Records Act

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The Montana Public Records Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Montana.

The Montana Open Meetings Law 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 Montana FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

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


Lawsuit Year
Becky v. Butte-Silver Bow Sch. Dist. 1 1995
Bryan v. Yellowstone County Elementary School District No. 2 2002
Common Cause v. Statutory Committee 1994
Great Falls Tribune Co. Inc. v. Day 1998
Great Falls Tribune v. Public Schools 1992
Missoulian v. Board of Regents 1984


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011


We do not currently have any legislation for Montana in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010


We have no current bill pages for Montana from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.


2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Senate Bill 241 -- This bill sought to create a searchable online database of all state incomes and expenditures.[1] On April 15 the bill was defeated by a vote of 51 to 48 in the state House.

Montana's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Montana #46 in the nation with an overall percentage of 38.40%.[2]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Montana 9 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 47 out of the 50 states.[3]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Montana's law as the 45th worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "F."[4]

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.

While the Montana law does not contain a declared legal intention, it does guarantee citizens the right to examine documents and other records that the government produces in the course of carrying out public duties.[5]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

The original definition of records includes all writings of government bodies including electronic mail.[6] However, it has been expanded to include all items in "electronic format or other non-print media, including but not limited to videotapes, photographs, microfilm, film, or computer disk."[7]

Exemptions

Notable exceptions include but are not limited to:

  • Library records[8]
  • Locations of burial sites[9]
  • Trade secrets[10]
  • Security information that would jeopardize the security of people, infrastructure or computer information[11]
  • The Montana Historical Society's collections[12]
  • The sale of mailing lists[13]
  • Social Security numbers[14]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

The term "agencies" includes public officials in all branches of government.[15]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

There is no exemption for the Montana state legislature within the Montana Public Records Act and thus the records are presumed to be open, though it has never been tested in court.

Privatized governmental agencies

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

In Montana, if a private entity receives or dispenses public funds or performs a public function, it is considered a public body and subject to the Montana Public Records Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.

Who may request records?

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

The Montana public records law states that citizens are entitled to public records in the state; however, the Montana Constitution states that no person may be denied such records. The Constitution trumps statute, so anyone may request public documents in Montana. "No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies."[16][17]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

There is no requirement for a statement of purpose within the law.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

The law does place a limit on the sale of mailing lists for commercial reasons.[18] Other than this, there are no restrictions on the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

No time limits are specified.

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Montana law allows the Secretary of State to set the fee level and allows him or her to charge for both "filing and copying."[19] For electronic fees, Montana expands the potential for fees by charging for the use of equipment, the maintenance of databases, the means of duplication, and hourly labor after the first half hour.[20]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

The Montana law is unclear as to what may be charged for search and collection fees. While the law permits charging for "filing" fees, it does not establish what that entails.[21]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

Although the state Attorney General is not authorized by any specific statute within the Act to enforce its provisions, the office may issue non-binding advisory opinions in response to questions raised by public agencies or officials concerning the law; private citizens, however, are not able to request such opinions.

Open meetings

"The legislature finds and declares that public boards, commissions, councils, and other public agencies in this state exist to aid in the conduct of the peoples' business. It is the intent of this part that actions and deliberations of all public agencies shall be conducted openly. The people of the state do not wish to abdicate their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them."[22]

See also

External links

References