“Providing information to the public is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties and responsibilities of public officers and employees;”
– The Tennessee Legislature
One of the accomplishments of the 2008 session of the Tennessee Legislative was an updating of the Tennessee Open Records Act. The amendments to the act took effect yesterday, July 1, 2008.
SB3280 has been assigned Public Chapter Number 1179 by the Secretary of State. You can get the complete text and the signature page showing where Naifeh, Ramsey, & Bredesen signed by clicking on that link.
There are three significant changes in the law – all of them good:
- There is a new, more comprehensive definition of what constitutes a “public record.”
“public record or records” or “state record or records” means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency.”
This is an important clarification. All those office files (word, excel, & powerpoint) are public records. Not just a print-out of the contents, but the files themselves. Public. Records.
- There is a seven-day deadline for public agencies to either produce the records, deny the request in writing, or provide a detailed written response “stating the time reasonably necessary to produce such record or information.”
- A government agency “may require a requestor to pay the custodian’s actual costs incurred in producing the requested material; provided that no charge shall accrue for the first five (5) hours incurred by the records custodian in producing the requested material.” Got that? No more twenty-five cents per page for making copies. The charge has to be the ACTUAL COST that the agency pays for copies. I’m betting that’s closer to one cent per page than it is to twenty-five. And also note that an agency may NOT charge for the first five hours time required to produce the requested material.
The law incorporates and reasserts the principles presented by the study committee created by Chapter 887 of the Public Acts of 2006:
(i) The state policies and guidelines shall reflect the policy that providing information to the public is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties and responsibilities of public officers and employees;
(ii) That excessive fees and other rules shall not be used to hinder access to non-exempt, public information;
(iii) That, in accordance with § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A), no charge shall be assessed to view a public record unless otherwise required by law;
(iv) That the requestor be given the option of receiving information in any format in which it is maintained by the agency, including electronic format consistent with Title 10, Chapter 7, Part 1; and
(v) That when large-volume requests are involved, information shall be provided in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, including but not limited to permitting the requestor to provide copying equipment or an electronic scanner.
Go forth and make use of your newly enhanced rights to request and inspect the public records of your government.
- Rob Shearer