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Open records

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Open records are documents in the possession of a governmental entity that are supposed to be made available to members of the public on request. Each of the fifty states has its own set of laws governing which documents are considered public. The federal government's Freedom of Information Act is a separate, federal, law that governs access to documents in the possession of the federal government and any of its agencies.[1]

State sunshine laws

Each of the fifty states has a different law governing the public's access to documents that are in the custody of the state government and local governments--cities, counties, public school districts, and other local taxing entities such as community colleges and park districts.

The laws differ in significant ways from state-to-state and each law has its own particular areas of complexity. As a result, the process of requesting public records can become confusing both for ordinary citizens and journalists. Four national organizations track and compare the fifty different state sunshine laws.

Investigative Reporters and Editors joined forces with the Better Government Association in 2002 to publish a state-by-state analysis of the state FOIA laws, prefacing their report with the comment that "state FOI laws have proven to be almost uniformly weak and easy to undermine."[2] This study ranked the Nebraska sunshine law as the best in the country at that time, with the Alabama Public Records Law tying for last place with the South Dakota Sunshine Law. In this study, 24 state laws earned a score of D or F.[3]


Several states and government agencies now publish records online in databases. For example, Michigan published offender records through "OTIS, the Offender Tracking Information System."[4] Louisiana currently publishes the "legislatures voting records" online, and will soon be publishing more information on budgets and spending on "LaTrac: Louisiana Transparency and Accountability".[5]

External links


  1. "The Freedom of Information Act" (dead link)
  2. Freedom of Information in the USA, Part I, 2002 (dead link)
  3. IRE & BGA's 2002 table comparing state FOIA laws (dead link)
  4. "Michigan Government Website"
  5. "Louisiana Government Website"