The National Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to announce the publication of its latest white paper, “Blueprint to Transparency: Non-compliance and Lack of Enforcement of Open Records Laws in Select U.S. States.” The paper looks at the varying enforcement mechanisms by state governments, including criminal penalties, civil penalties and attorney fee-shifting.
NFOIC’s research reveals that oftentimes not much happens when government officials and agencies violate a state’s open records laws, which are intended to provide the public with accessible information from the government. The paper, which includes case studies that take a deep dive into highlighted states, outlines NFOIC’s five recommendations for states that want to improve their open records enforcement policies and laws:
Strengthening fee-shifting provisions are paramount to ensuring compliance by allowing for any Plaintiff that substantially prevails to recover attorney’s fees, and by making the award of fees mandatory.
Enforcing civil penalties that accrue from the date of unlawful withholding and by enacting provisions that will make the responding public official or agency head personally liable for civil fines and escalating penalties for repeated violations can also encourage compliance.
Increase accountability and powers among enforcement officials and agencies tasked with these roles, like attorneys general and ombudspersons, while considering new roles for inspectors general, public information officers and citizen oversight boards.
Initiate robust primary (alternative) dispute resolution solutions that provide requesters the ability to appeal the decision without the need to hire a lawyer and remove this obstacle from being used to discourage appeals from members of the public and journalists.
Advocate for imposition of other sanctions, like mandatory open government training, to prevent repeat violations, as well as institute mandatory open government law training for all public record stewards, public employees and officials, to prevent violations from occurring in the first place.
NFOIC is in the midst of publishing a series of white papers examining how FOI impacts lives — offering comparative analysis of laws, practices and policies across the U.S. This research is an extension of NFOIC’s 2020 Vision for improving government transparency at the state and local level at a time when access to public records and institutions is becoming more challenging for journalists, citizens and businesses.
If you know academics, government agencies or stakeholder groups who may be interested in online public records portal administration, please share this research with them. We hope this white paper can assist in the effort for improved records administration in cities and states across the U.S and look forward to hearing your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition protects your right to open government. Our mission is to make sure state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies and procedures to facilitate the public’s access to their records and proceedings.
We are a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of state and regional affiliates representing 35 states and the District of Columbia. Through our programs, services and national member network, NFOIC promotes press freedom, legislative and administrative reforms, dispute resolution, and litigation (when needed) to ensure open, transparent and accessible state and local governments and public institutions.