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South Carolina Freedom of Information Act

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The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in South Carolina.

The South Carolina 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 South Carolina FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

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

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

Lawsuit Year
Quality Towing Inc. v. City of Myrtle Beach 2001
Weston v. Carolina Research and Development Foundation 1991


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not currently have any legislation for South Carolina in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

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


2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

House Bill 3537

House Bill 3537 sought to require South Carolina school districts to pay for random performance audits meant to ensure that district spending is consistent with stated district goals.[1] This bill was inspired by a controversy in Spartanburg District 7, where the board secretly decided to pay a country club $325,000 so that district golf teams could play there.[2]

South Carolina's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked South Carolina #30 in the nation with an overall percentage of 50.50%.[3]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave South Carolina 59 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 15 out of the 50 states.[4]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked South Carolina's law as the 16th best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C."[5]

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:

"The General Assembly finds that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that citizens shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in the formulation of public policy. Toward this end, provisions of this chapter must be construed so as to make it possible for citizens, or their representatives, to learn and report fully the activities of their public officials at a minimum cost or delay to the persons seeking access to public documents or meetings."[6]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

South Carolina's definition of records includes all records, no matter their physical characteristics, that were "prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body."[7]

Exemptions

Notable exceptions include but are not limited to:

  • "Income tax returns, medical records, hospital medical staff reports, scholastic records, adoption records, records related to registration, and circulation of library materials which contain names or other personally identifying details"[7]
  • Examinations
  • Security information
  • Trade secrets
  • Law enforcement records
  • Proposed contracts and land purchases/sales
  • Attorney-client information where the public agency acts as a client
  • "Memoranda, correspondence, and working papers in the possession of individual members of the General Assembly or their immediate staffs"[8]
  • Donor identities
  • Applicant information
  • Personal information of individuals who have made complaints
  • Autopsy photos

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

South Carolina's definition of agencies includes all branches of government at both the state and local levels, as well as any organization that is supported by any public funds.[7]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at South Carolina FOIA 30-4-20 and is subject to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-South Carolina

In South Carolina, private entities that receive or expend public funds or perform a public function are considered public bodies and subject to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material are explicitly exempted under South Carolina FOIA 30-4-40.

Who may request records?

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

Anyone may request public documents in South Carolina. The law states that, "any person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body."[9]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

South Carolina does not require a statement of purpose, but does restrict the use of records, implying the potential for requests of purpose.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

South Carolina law prohibits the use of police reports, information about disabled individuals and employee information for commercial purposes.[10][11]

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

South Carolina law allows 15 business days to respond to records requests.[12]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

South Carolina law allows for the charging of fees to include the cost of duplication.[13]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

South Carolina also allows public agencies to charge a reasonable hourly fee for the cost of search. However, the fee is not to include the cost of determining if the record is exempt or non-exempt.[14]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

Besides issuing advisory opinions in regards to the state's open records law, the State Attorney General plays no active litigative role in the enforcement of the right of the public to access governmental records.

Open meetings

The South Carolina Open Meetings Law states that, with some exceptions, all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public.

See also

External links

References