The state of open records laws: Access denied

June 1, 2012 9:58 AM

From iWatch News:

Every state theoretically gives citizens the right to access government information. But an analysis of public records policies by the State Integrity Investigation reveals that, in state after state, the laws are riddled with exemptions and loopholes that often impede the public’s right to know rather than improve upon it.

Some states, like Iowa, exclude entire branches of government. Others protect individual lawmakers’ records and inter-office communications. Some laws are filled with hundreds of exceptions, buried in state codebooks to the point where it’s difficult to keep track of what the exceptions are and just how they got there.

It didn’t start out that way. Ken Bunting, executive director of the Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance of freedom of information advocates, journalists, lawyers and academics, said that most state open records laws started with a few — nine, ten, a dozen — exemptions. Several states adopted open records policies as early as the 1950s; many emerged in the post-Watergate era. Over time, the number of exemptions has grown, he said, undermining the presumption of openness.