Earlier this year, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press published its latest edition of the Open Government Guide, which is an indispensable resource for researchers navigating state open records laws. The free online guide provides a state-by-state breakdown of open records laws, including a foreword that explains the history of open records law in each state. The summaries, written by in-state experts, provide users with up-to-date statutory and case law governing access to public records and meetings in their state. The Guide can help researchers submit informed records requests by offering answers to a range of questions:
Who can request records?
Whose records are and are not subject to disclosure? (Executive branch agencies, legislative bodies, courts, nongovernmental bodies, etc.)
What kind of records are subject to disclosure?
Which record categories are open and which are closed?
How are electronic media treated? Does group texting constitute a public meeting? Text messages? Social media posts?
What are the fees for access?
What are the exact procedures for obtaining records?
In addition, the Guide allows users to compare access between states. A researcher seeking access to body camera footage in Kansas, for example, can click on that state’s guide and look under “Police Records” for a section devoted to police video, then hit a yellow “Compare” button to see how other states handle disclosure.
The Guide also walks users through the logistics of handling delivery delays as well as options for compelling disclosure through appeals. Read more about the update in this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review.