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Overview of Sunshine Laws

by Michael Riedijk on September 17, 2015

Do you trust your government? The heart of democracy, "by the people, for the people", requires that government be accountable to it citizens. And, if there is no trust there, how can democracy flourish?

Trust, though, need not be blind faith. Policies, procedures and systems can help make government accountable. Open records laws often referred to as Sunshine Laws, are laws that promote transparency; requiring certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.

The term sunshine law can be traced back to Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, which was enacted in 1967. While there were Public Records Laws before that, these Sunshine Laws expanded the scope of what is available to the public.

The Public Records Laws covered documents; at first, written materials; but later, expanded to tapes, photographs, film, sound recordings and computer files. With the Sunshine Laws (Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes), any record made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for personal inspection by any person, (unless specifically exempted by Florida Legislature).

Florida Sunshine Laws


119.01
General state policy on public records.

(1) It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.
(2)(a) Automation of public records must not erode the right of access to those records. As each agency increases its use of and dependence on electronic recordkeeping, each agency must provide reasonable public access to records electronically maintained and must ensure that exempt or confidential records are not disclosed except as otherwise permitted by law.
(b) When designing or acquiring an electronic recordkeeping system, an agency must consider whether such system is capable of providing data in some common format such as, but not limited to, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange.
(c) An agency may not enter into a contract for the creation or maintenance of a public records database if that contract impairs the ability of the public to inspect or copy the public records of the agency, including public records that are online or stored in an electronic recordkeeping system used by the agency.
(d) Subject to the restrictions of copyright and trade secret laws and public records exemptions, agency use of proprietary software must not diminish the right of the public to inspect and copy a public record.
(e) Providing access to public records by remote electronic means is an additional method of access that agencies should strive to provide to the extent feasible. If an agency provides access to public records by remote electronic means, such access should be provided in the most cost-effective and efficient manner available to the agency providing the information.
(f) Each agency that maintains a public record in an electronic recordkeeping system shall provide to any person, pursuant to this chapter, a copy of any public record in that system which is not exempted by law from public disclosure. An agency must provide a copy of the record in the medium requested if the agency maintains the record in that medium, and the agency may charge a fee in accordance with this chapter. For the purpose of satisfying a public records request, the fee to be charged by an agency if it elects to provide a copy of a public record in a medium not routinely used by the agency, or if it elects to compile information not routinely developed or maintained by the agency or that requires a substantial amount of manipulation or programming, must be in accordance with s. 119.07(4).

Since Florida has enacted their Sunshine Laws, many other jurisdictions have enacted similar laws. Many have even named their laws as Sunshine Laws. Here is a partial list:

Missouri Sunshine Law

Subject to Chapter 610, Missouri Attorney General notes that, “the Sunshine Law applies to all records, regardless of what form they are kept in, and to all meetings, regardless of the manner in which they are held.” Government records on a non-government owned server (i.e. social media site) are subject to a Sunshine request, and legal discovery.

Ohio Sunshine Laws

Ohio has notably pro-access freedom of information laws. In Ohio Ohio’s Public Records and Open Meetings Laws, collectively known as the “Sunshine Laws,” give Ohioans access to government meetings and records – collectively known as “public records”. Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) 149.011 applies to and defines Open Records.

Hawaii Sunshine Law

Hawaii Sunshine Law legislates the methods by which public meetings and associated records are monitored and conducted.

New Mexico Sunshine Laws

New Mexico Sunshine Laws and provisions of access to public records, website and social media records can be found within the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA).

North Dakota Sunshine Laws

North Dakota Open Records Statute (N.D.C.C. §44-04-18 et seq.) and North Dakota Open Meetings Statute N.D.C.C. §44-04-19 et seq. govern open records in the State of North Dakota. These Sunshine Laws provide that all government records and meetings must be open to the public (unless a specific statute requires or authorizes a meeting or record to be closed).

Louisiana Sunshine Law

The Louisiana Public Records Act (La.R.S. 44:1 et seq.) and Louisiana Open Meetings Law La.R.S. 42:4.1 et seq.also known as Louisiana’s Sunshine Law govern social media and Open Records in the state of Louisiana, providing access to records for the public.

Here is a list of all
US State Open Records Laws

Open Records Laws by State

Click the map below to learn the details how Public Record Laws in your state.

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