Producing Public Records in the State of Louisiana
The Louisiana Public Records Act, also known as Louisiana’s Sunshine Law, is open records law that was passed in 1940. The Louisiana Public Records Act was enacted for the purpose of providing residents of the state with the right to request access to public records and government information, in an effort to promote transparency and openness between state government agencies and the people they serve. To this point, the law sets forth the steps that citizens within the state must take when looking to access the public records of a state department or agency within Lousiana, as well as the responsibilities that said departments and agencies have in terms of making their public records available for access.
How are public records defined under the law?
The Louisiana Public Records Act defines public records as “all books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state.”
What are the requirements of records custodians under the law?
The duties and responsibilities that custodians of public records have under the Louisiana Public Records Act as it concerns facilitating the access, inspection, and copying of their public records include but are not limited to:
- Fees for copies of public records that are established by a custodian of said public records must be reasonable.
- Records custodians must permit Lousiana citizens to access their public records during regular business hours.
- Records custodians are responsible for redacting any personally identifiable information that may be contained within their records before disclosing said records to the general public.
- Records custodians are required to respond to a request for access to their public records within three business days.
- Records custodians are prohibited from making an inquiry of a person who is requesting access to their public records, aside from confirming the age and identification of the said person.
- Records custodians have a duty to preserve and protect the public records that are in their possession.
When can a records request be denied under the law?
With respect to the denial of public records requests, the Louisiana Public Records Act states that records custodians are permitted to deny an individual’s request to access the custodian’s public records, if such a request is unreasonably burdensome and would effectively interfere with the custodian’s ability to perform their constitutional and legal duties. Alternatively, records custodians also have no duty to create a public record where none exists. Furthermore, the following public records are exempt from disclosure under the law:
- Lawyer-client communications.
- Common interest privileges.
- Health and medical records.
- Records of the coroner.
- Tax returns.
- Trade secrets and proprietary information.
- Records relating to juveniles.
- Records that must remain confidential under other state or federal laws.
- Personnel records.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
As it relates to the enforcement of the Louisiana Public Records Act, the provisions of the law do not give the Louisana State Department of Law the right to enforce penalties against public officials and institutions that fail to comply with the law. Instead, a Louisiana citizen that feels their rights have been violated under the law must turn to the district courts within the state. To this end, the district courts within Louisiana can issue a writ of mandamus ordering a state or government agency to produce the records that have been requested by the aggrieved party, as well as other forms of relief that are at the discretion of the court.
In terms of state government transparency and accountability, the state of Louisiana has consistently ranked at the top of the list when compared with other U.S. states, according to several metrics including the Freedom of Information in the USA study and the BGA – Alper Integrity Index study. With this being said, the Louisiana Public Records Act stands as the foremost means by which residents of the state can gain a greater level of insight and understanding into the decisions that are made by their elected officials.