The Nevada Open Records Act, Data Security, and Penalties
The Nevada Open Records Act refers to a series of laws that are designed to provide residents of the state with the right to access certain public records and government information. With the first law being passed in 1911, the definition of what constitutes a public record has gradually changed over the years, as well as the scope and application of the law. With this being said, the Nevada Open Records Act establishes the legal and administrative guidelines that a resident within the state must follow when looking to access, inspect, or copy the public records of a state government agency or other related institution. Moreover, the law also lays out the punishments that state and local government agencies stand to face should they fail to maintain compliance.
How are public records defined under the law?
Under the Nevada Open Records Act, official state records are defined as “papers, unpublished books, maps, and photographs Information stored on magnetic tape or computer, laser or optical disc; materials that are capable of being read by a machine, including, without limitation, microforms and audio and visual materials; and materials that are made or received by a state agency and preserved by that agency or its successor as evidence of the organization, operation, policy or any other activity of that agency or because of the information contained in the material.” Conversely, the law defines a government entity as “an institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, division, authority or other unit of government of this State, including, without limitation, an agency of the Executive Department, or of a political subdivision of this State.”
What are the duties of government entities under the law?
The Nevada Open Records Act mandates that government entities within the state take the following actions and measures to ensure that the public records of such entities are open and accessible to members of the general public:
- Government entities are responsible for creating and publicly posting a notice that details the steps that members of the public can follow when looking to access the public records of such entities, including the fees for copies of public records, among other pertinent information.
- Government entities are prohibited from charging a requestor a fee that exceeds the actual cost that said entities incur when providing the requested information.
- Government entities have an obligation to respond to records requests within 5 business days. Furthermore, said entities must also provide members of the public with the information necessary to adequately access their public records.
- Government entities are required to redact any confidential or exempt information from their public records before furnishing said records to a requestor.
- Government entities are only permitted to dispose of their official state records in accordance with a data retention and disposition policy that must first be approved by the Committee to Approve Schedules for the Retention and Disposition of Official State Records.
- Government entities, as well as the employees or records custodians that are employed by such institutions, are prohibited from stealing, defacing, or altering official state records.
When can a government entity deny access to its public records?
The Nevada Open Records Act permits government entities to deny public records requests that are related to information that is considered to be exempt from public disclosure under the law. However, when a government entity denies a requestor from accessing its public records, the entity in question is also responsible for citing the specific legal authority or statute that denotes such information as exempt or confidential. Furthermore, government entities must provide this information to a requesting individual or entity in writing. To this point, some examples of public records that are exempt under the law include:
- Names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
- Library records.
- Medical records.
- Educational records.
- Business records and financial data.
- Contracts, proposals, and bids.
- Collective bargaining records.
- Economic development records.
- Election records.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
While the provisions of the Nevada Open Records Act do not provide the state attorney general or the State Department of Law with the authority to impose punishments against government entities that fail to comply with the law, aggrieved parties can still look to the state court system for recompense. More specifically, government entities that are found to have violated the law are subject to a monetary penalty of up to $1,000. What’s more, repeated violations of the law can result in monetary penalties of $5,000 and $10,000 respectively, as well as any other legal remedies that may also be available.
When a citizen within the state of Nevada is looking to obtain further information about the operations of a government entity within their local jurisdiction, the Nevada Open Records Act provides them with the means to do so. In conjunction with the requirements that government entities must adhere to in order to maintain compliance with the law, Nevada residents can rest assured that their public records access records cannot be unjustly denied, without consequence or repercussions. In this way, said residents have a mechanism to express their political power in the manner that they see fit.