Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act

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The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA) is a law, first enacted in 1979, that guarantees access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Rhode Island. APRA is defined in Chapter 38.2 of the Rhode Island General Laws; this chapter has 15 different subsections detailing aspects of APRA. APRA was enacted in 1979, and then significantly revised in 1991, 1998 and 2008. Rhode Island was the 49th state to enact a FOIA law.

The Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Rhode Island sunshine lawsuits

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

Lawsuit Year
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees v. Office of the Governor 2010
Providence Journal Co. v. Sundlun 1992

North Smithfield, 2008

The Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the North Smithfield police department in December 2008 accusing the department of violating the APRA by refusing to turn over an arrest report.

The suit alleged that a police dispatcher refused in November 2008 to give a community activist a copy of an arrest report related to a traffic stop. The ACLU said the dispatcher erroneously told the activist the report was off-limits until criminal charges were resolved. The suit sought $1,000 in damages.[1]

Proposed changes


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not have any legislation for Rhode Island in 2011.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

We do not have any legislation for Rhode Island in 2010.

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Rhode Island #2 in the nation with an overall percentage of 63.40%.[2]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Rhode Island 66 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "D" and a ranking of 9 out of the 50 states.[3]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Rhode Island's law at #13, giving it a letter grade of "C."[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.

The motivation behind the law, as expressed in its introduction, is, "The public's right to access to public records and the individual's right to dignity and privacy are both recognized to be principles of the utmost importance in a free society."[5]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Rhode Island law includes all documents, no matter their physical form, that are "made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency."[6]


Notable exemptions include but are not limited to:[6]

  • Personal records of any individuals that would release private contact information, "medical treatment, welfare, employment security, pupil records, all records relating to a client/attorney relationship," excluding, "with respect to employees, the name, gross salary, salary range, total cost of paid fringe benefits, gross amount received in overtime, and other remuneration in addition to salary, job title, job description, dates of employment and positions held with the state or municipality, work location, business telephone number, the city or town of residence, and date of termination shall be public."[6]
  • Pension records
  • Trade secrets
  • Child custody records
  • Law enforcement records
  • "Any records which would not be available by law or rule of court to an opposing party in litigation."[6]
  • Security information
  • Charitable donor information
  • Collective bargaining
  • "Preliminary drafts, notes, impressions, memoranda, working papers, and work products; provided, however, any documents submitted at a public meeting of a public body shall be deemed public"[6]
  • Elected officials
  • Property appraisals for potential purchases
  • Tax returns
  • Investigations of public bodies
  • Library records
  • Credit card and account numbers

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Rhode Island law includes all branches of government at the state and local levels, as well as all groups acting on behalf of those government agencies.[7]


See also: Legislatures and transparency

The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at Rhode Island Law 38-2 and is subject to the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Rhode Island

Rhode Island law includes all private entities that perform governmental functions within the definition of public body found within the Access to Public Records Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, charitable donor information is exempt under Rhode Island Law 38-2.

Who may request records?

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

Anyone may request public records in Rhode Island. The law explicitly states that "[E]very person or entity shall have the right to inspect" public documents.[8]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Request for records may be made for any reason, according to Section §38-2-3 of the APRA. Section §38-2-3(h) clarifies that a public record cannot be withheld based on the purpose for the request, if the purpose is made known to the custodian of the record.[9]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

According to APRA §38-2-6, it is illegal to use information obtained from public records to "solicit for commercial purposes, or to obtain a commercial advantage over the party furnishing that information to the public body." People who violate this part of APRA can be criminally charged with up to a $500 fine and/or one year imprisonment, if their violation was knowing and willful.[10]

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Rhode Island law allows 10 days for a public body to deny a request. If the agency does not respond within 10 days, it is deemed a denial.[11]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Rhode Island law allows the charging of fees, which can include the cost of duplication.[12]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

Rhode Island law also allows the charging of fees to cover the cost of the labor involved in the search not to include the first hour of search and not to exceed $15 an hour.[13]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

Under § 38-2-8(b) of the Rhode Island General Laws, the State Attorney General is charged with investigating any complaint brought by a private citizen related to access to public records. At the same time, however, the individual denied the request is allowed to pursue legal action in Superior Court of the county in which the records are maintained.

Open meetings

The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act states, "It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy."[14]

See also

External links