Open Records and Freedom of Information Act Requests

It is becoming more common for people to question the government on some of their decisions at levels all the way from the local town council up to the President of the United States.

Open government has long been an objective of which politicians state they are in favor but, unfortunately, it is often just "lip service".

All states of which I am aware and the federal government have laws which require them to produce records upon request, with some limitations and at some cost to the requesting party. However, it is extremely common for the requests to be denied because the person making the request does not understand the basics of the law(s) under which the request is made.

Some states, such as Illinois, have a state version of the Freedom of Information Act which uses the same name. Other states, such as Texas, call their acts by other names such as the Texas Open Records Act. A request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act in Texas will often get a rejection letter from the agency because the request is made under a statute which does not apply or does not exist.

The federal government and the various agencies are covered under the Federal Freedom of Information Act but that same act rarely applies to any part of state government so a request made to, for example, the Alabama Legislature asking for minutes of a particular committee and made pursuant to the Federal Freedom of Information act would rightly be rejected, since that law doesn't apply to the Alabama Legislature. However, the same request made pursuant to the "Alabama Open Records Act, Code of Alabama 1975, § 36-12-40" would produce the records.

The real intent of this article is to let people know if they are trying to get public records they need to be sure and do their research, read the law, and use the correct terminology in their request.

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