Public Records Access and Privacy in the State of Wyoming
The Wyoming Public Records Act is a series of laws that provide residents of the state with the legal right to access the public records of the government institutions and agencies that serve said citizens in jurisdictions around the state. To this point, the law establishes the steps that Wyoming residents must take to access, inspect, and copy the public records that are maintained by a particular government institution within the state, including the fees associated with such requests, as well as the public records that are considered confidential under the law, among other pertinent information. Furthermore, the law also outlines the protocols that government agencies must adhere to are it pertains to the administration and accessibility of the public records in their possession.
How are public records defined under the law?
The Wyoming Public Records Act defines public records as “any information in a physical form created, accepted, or obtained by the state or any agency, institution or political subdivision of the state in furtherance of its official function and transaction of public business which is not privileged or confidential by law. Without limiting the foregoing, the term “public records” includes any written communication or other information, whether in paper, electronic, or other physical form, received by the state or any agency, institution, or political subdivision of the state in furtherance of the transaction of public business of the state or agency, institution or political subdivision of the state, whether at a meeting or outside a meeting.”
What are the rights of citizens under the law?
Under the Wyoming Public Records Act, both citizens and non-citizens of the state have the following rights with regard to the ability of said individuals to request access to the public records of government agencies within the state:
- The right to access, inspect, and copy all public records that a government agency maintains, at reasonable times, in accordance with the normal business hours of a particular government agency.
- The right to access the public records of agencies at all levels of government within the state of Wyoming, including the state and local levels of government.
- The right to request records in an electronic format, permitting that such a request is practicable or possible for the applicable government agency.
- The right to pay reasonable costs when looking to access public records, such as the costs that a government agency incurs when providing copies of its public records, as well as the cost of programming and computer services as it relates to electronic copies of records, among other things.
- The right to access public records that contain exempt information in conjunction with the provisions of the law, permitting a government agency first redacts such information from the records before disclosing them to the public.
When can a request to access public records be denied?
Alternatively, the Wyoming Public Records Act also sets forth various public records that members of the general public are prohibited from accessing, inspecting, copying, or disclosing. For instance, members of the public are forbidden from accessing public records regarding bonafide research projects that are being conducted by a state institution within Wyoming. Moreover, members of the public are also prohibited from accessing public records relating to blueprints, schematics, and building plans that would reveal the internal layout structure of public facilities within the state. Subsequently, some additional examples of public records that are exempt from disclosure under the law include but are not limited to:
- Test questions, scoring keys, and professional examinations.
- Trade secrets and commercial business information.
- Electronic health records (EHR) and hospital records.
- Library patron and transaction records.
- School district and educational records.
- The welfare and adoption records of individuals.
- Appraisals for potential land purchases.
- Law enforcement investigation and security information.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
The Wyoming Public Records Act does not give the state attorney general the authority to impose punishments against government officials that are found to be in violation of the law. However, aggrieved parties can still look to the state court system should their requests to access public records be denied unjustly. With all this being said, members of the general public that have their rights violated under the law are entitled to up to $750 in monetary damages, as well as any associated court costs and attorney fees that an individual may incur when bringing their case forward before a judge.
Through the provisions of the Wyoming Public Records Act, members of the general public are afforded the right to access the public records of the various government agencies that operate within the state. Whether it be in the form of birth certificates or car ownership records, the accessibility of public records provides American citizens with information that can help them in all aspects of their lives. More importantly, however, the accessibility enables these citizens to become informed about the decisions that the government officials are making within their local jurisdictions.