May 14th, 2008
My state public records law is worse than yours – or is it?
By David Cuillier
One of the great sessions at the National Freedom of Information Coalition conference in Philadelphia last weekend focused on comparing state public records law. Everyone always seems to think their public records law is the best or worst in the nation. A few studies have attempted to provide overall ratings, such as the 2002 report by Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Better Government Association, and the 2007 report by BGA and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. That’s great, but in reality it really depends on the part of the law.
The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida rates various aspects of state public records laws. Overall for all statutory provisions the best states are Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana. The worst states are Nevada, Pennsylvania (at least until their new law goes into effect), Alabama, Maine, Arizona, both Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska.
But look at the pieces of the laws and you see a different picture. For example, Arizona rates dead last in the country as far as overall fees for getting public records, however, it ranks as the No. 1 state for fees to getting computerized records. Florida ranks at a lowly 45th for fees for computer records. So it can be difficult to generalize whether a state is great or terrible. It depends on the issue.
If you want to look at your state, piece by piece, check out the Citizen Access Project ratings online (easy to compare states), or the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Open Government Guide. Then you can really get a good feel for where your state shines and where it needs light.