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State of Rhode Island General Assembly
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General Assembly adopts open records law (APRA) changes
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly has approved legislation that makes significant changes to the Access to Public Records Act (open records law) including making public various records that were not previously public, such as employment contracts.
Passed and sent to the governor for his action are companion House and Senate bills –
by Rep. Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) and
by Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown).
Under current law, all documents identifiable to an individual, subject to a few exceptions, are not public. This legislation will apply a balancing test by providing that all records of this nature would be public unless disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The amended law mirrors the Federal Freedom of Information Act.
As an example, the names of individuals who have applied for a judgeship or school superintendent post, for instance, would not be public unless or until they are finalists for those positions, under the proposition that the public interest outweighs an individual’s right to privacy.
Said Senator Sheehan, “Government does not, should not exist to keep secrets from the public, but rather to facilitate the public’s knowledge and understanding about the functions of government. This bill represents a historic change in the citizen’s access to public records. This provides for more transparency or our government, which often yields greater efficiency and accountability to the citizens of the state.”
“Good governments provide their citizens with as much accurate and easily obtainable information as possible,” said Representative Marcello. “We believe the changes being made in this legislation enhance the current law, make it easier for the public to seek and receive information and make more information that is pertinent to the public readily available. I see it as a significant move toward a more open and accessible government.”
Among the provisions of the legislation:
Under current law, all documents identifiable to an individual are not public. This bill would apply a balancing test by providing that all records of this nature would be public unless disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The Federal Freedom of Information Act applies such a balancing test. The state would apply the identical test.
Require an arrest record be provided within 48 hours of a request (72 hours on weekends and holidays), together with basic information pertaining to the arrest of an adult. This provision applies to arrests made five days before a request for records. The basic information to be provided includes such items as the name, date of birth, gender and race of the arrested adult; the charge or charges and the date and time of the arrest.
Make public various records that were not previously public, including municipal pension records that are not part of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS), records of payments received by an employee as a result of termination or otherwise leaving employment and employment contracts of public employees.
Require a public body to designate a public records officer. Those who will haqndle public records requests must receive training and orientation concerning the act and certify compliance to this requirement to the Attorney General.
Provide that a public body cannot, as a condition of fulfilling a public records request, require a person seeking public records to give a reason for the request or to provide personally identifiable information about him or herself.
Provide that all copying and search and retrieval fees shall be waived if a public body fails to comply with a request in a timely manner.
Increase the civil fine for a knowing or willful violation from $1,000 to $2,000.
Impose a $1,000 fine against a public body or official found to have recklessly violated the provisions. Current law has no fine for a reckless violation.
Provide that when a public body seeks an additional 20 business days to respond (beyond the initial 10 business days) it set forth a specific reason why additional time is necessary. Current law allows a public body to extend the time to respond up to an additional 20 business days “for good cause” but does not define good cause.
Current law provides that the court shall award attorney fees and costs to a plaintiff once he/she obtains a favorable judgment. The new law now provides that, even without a judgment, a court may award a plaintiff reasonable fees and costs if the court determines the public body has acted in bad faith.
If enacted into law, the new open records provisions will take effect on September 1 this year.
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
Lt. Governor's Office
Secretary of State
Link to Public Records Request