Every state or territory has laws addressing access to public records and open meetings. Public record disclosure laws grant the public the right to inspect almost any government record related to the conduct of the public’s business. Similar laws allow the public access to most meetings conducted by public bodies.
Although most records are subject to public record laws, those exempt from mandatory disclosure, include:
- Private personnel information
- Records compiled for litigation
- Certain criminal investigatory materials
- Student records
- Trade secret information
Other records that may be exempt under state statutes are adoption records, public utility records, and 911 calls.
Attorney general offices are subject to public record laws as well but their documents are usually protected by investigatory or attorney-client privilege. Records related to criminal investigations and prosecutions are typically also protected.
Enforcing Public Record Laws
In many states, attorneys general are responsible for enforcing public record laws and ensuring compliance by state agencies. In states where the attorney general does not have enforcement authority, citizens who request public records and are denied may file a civil suit.
In the case of a willful violation by a state agency of public records law, attorneys general may have the authority to bring a suit to enforce compliance with those laws. Most importantly, attorneys general are responsible for establishing policies and procedures for state agencies relating to public record laws.