Iowa Open Records Law

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The Iowa Open Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Iowa. The law was first enacted in 1967.

The Iowa 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 Iowa FOIA procedures.

Recent news

Transparency blocking
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Sunshine Guardians
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Relevant legal cases

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

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

Lawsuit Year
City of Dubuque v. Telegraph Herald Inc. 1980
City of Sioux City v. Greater Sioux City Press Club 1988
Des Moines Register & Tribune Co. v. Osmundson 1976
Dubuque v. Dubuque Racing Association, Ltd 1988
Gannon and Nichols v. Iowa Board of Regents 2005
Howard v. Des Moines Register & Tribune Co. 1979
Iowa Civil Rights Commission v. City of Des Moines 1981
KMEG Television Inc. v. Iowa State Board of Regents 1989
Linder v. Eckard 1967
Northeast Council on Substance Abuse Inc. v. Iowa Dept. of Public Health, Div. of Substance Abuse 1994

Proposed changes


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not have any legislation for Iowa in 2011.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

We do not have any legislation for Iowa in 2010.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009
  • State Sen. Kim Reynolds, R-Osceola, proposed a new online state and local budget database. The database would provide free access to the public of all state and local budgets. It would cost an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 to create.[1]
  • House File 74 -- An Act relating to the establishment of a searchable budget database website for the public to access the details of the expenditure of state tax revenues and a searchable tax rate database for the public to access the details of each tax rate for all taxing districts in the state.[2]
  • Senate Study Bill 1231 -- "Members of the Senate State Government Committee voted 10-5 Wednesday to approve a measure containing provisions enhancing Iowa’s “sunshine” laws pertaining to public disclosure of out-of-court settlements and charitable donations to public foundations."[3][4]
  • Senate File 161 would create an Iowa public information board that would hear citizen complaints regarding government compliance with the open records law, and be empowered to enforce compliance.[5][6]

Iowa's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Iowa #26 in the nation with an overall percentage of 51.80%.[7]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Iowa 53 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 20 out of the 50 states.[8]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Iowa's law as the 23rd best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C-".[9]

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 declared legal intention of the law states, "Every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record or the information contained in a public record."[10]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

The Iowa law includes all records of government agencies except where the documents have been deemed confidential.


Exemptions include:

  • Personal information on accepted students, current students, and past students
  • Medical records
  • Trade secrets
  • Records of attorneys who represent the state
  • Reports that result in unfair competition
  • Appraisal information for public land purchases
  • Criminal files
  • Military confidential records
  • Personal information in records of employees and elected officials of public agencies
  • Library records
  • Information on the donors of charitable contributions
  • Corrections department information that would jeopardize security.
  • Communications made to the government but not required by statute
  • Examinations
  • Archaeological and historical ecologically sensitive material locations and information
  • Marketing and advertising budgets and strategies for non-profits
  • Information maintained by mediators employed to solve the disputes with government agencies[11]

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Government agencies are defined by the Iowa ORL as all divisions of government, including state and local divisions, as well as any parimutuel wagering group that receives funding from tax money. This excludes county or district fairs or agricultural societies.[11]


See also: Legislatures and transparency

While the Iowa Open Records Law's broad definition of public body incorporates the state legislature, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. v. Dwyer held that the Senate withholds a constitutionally granted power to establish its own rules which may run counter to the Iowa Open Records Law.[12]

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars

Iowa law subjects all entities, including private entities, that perform governmental functions to the Iowa Open Records Law.[13]

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, examinations and personal information on accepted students, current students, and past students is explicitly exempted under Iowa ORL 22.7.

Who may request records?

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

Anyone may request public records in Iowa. "Every person shall have the right to examine and copy public records".[14]

Must a purpose be stated

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

The Iowa law does not require a statement of purpose for records requests.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

No restrictions on the use of public records is present in the law.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Iowa allows 10-20 days for record request responses to be completed.

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Fees can be ascribed strictly based on duplication and are at the discretion of the department.[15]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

The Iowa law does not permit charging fees for the cost associated with the search and retrieval of records.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

Under § 22.10 of the Iowa Code Annotated, "any aggrieved person, any taxpayer to or citizen of the state of Iowa, or the attorney general or any county attorney, may seek judicial enforcement of the requirements of this chapter in an action brought against the lawful custodian and any other persons who would be appropriate defendants under the circumstances."[16]

Open meetings

See also: Iowa Open Meetings Law

"This chapter seeks to assure, through a requirement of open meetings of governmental bodies, that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people. Ambiguity in the construction or application of this chapter should be resolved in favor of openness."[17]

See also

External links