The Georgia Open Records Act O.C.G.A. 50-18-70
O. C. G. A. Official Code of Georgia Annotated (Lawyer Speak)
HouseBill 397 Passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2012, and changed the Open Records Act. Original provisions of the Act are in white, changes are in red italics.
Purpose “The General Assembly finds and declares that the strong public policy of this state is in favor of open government; that open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society; and that public access to public records should be encouraged to foster confidence in government and so that the public can evaluate the expenditure of public funds and the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions.”
Purpose “The General Assembly further finds and declares that there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay. This article shall be broadly construed to allow inspection of governmental records.”
Purpose “The exceptions set forth in this article, together with any other exception located elsewhere in the Code, shall be interpreted narrowly to exclude only those portions of records addressed by such exception.” -O. C. G. A. 50-18-70
Approach of this Law “All public records shall be open for personal inspection and copying, except those which by order of a court of this state or by law are specifically exempted from disclosure.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (a)
Applies to: “. . . Any state office, department, division, board, bureau, commission, authority, or other separate unit of state government created or established by law.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-91(1)
Applies to: “ . . . Any association, corporation, or other similar organization that has a membership or ownership body composed primarily of counties, municipal corporations, or school districts of this state, their officers, or any combination thereof and derives more the 33 1/3 percent of its general operating budget from payments from such political subdivisions.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-70 (1)
Applies to: “This Code section shall be interpreted narrowly so as to exclude from disclosure only that portion of a public record to which an exclusion is directly applicable. . . .all other portions of a record shall be provided.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-72(b)
Public Records: “ . . . all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, data,data fields, or similar material prepared and maintained or received by an agency or by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency . . .
Public Records: or when such documents have been transferred to a private person or entity by an agency for storage or future governmental use.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-70 (2)
Court Records “ . . . All documents, papers, letters, maps, books (except books formally organized in libraries), microfilm, magnetic tape, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance, or, in the necessary performance of any judicial function
Court Records Created or received by an official of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, or any superior, state, juvenile, probate or magistrate court.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-91 (2)
Court Records “ . . . Includes records of the offices of the judge, clerk, prosecuting attorney, public defender, court reporter, or any employee of the court.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-91(2)
How Requested? “. . .may be made to the custodian of a public record either orally or in writing.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (B)
How Requested? The enforcement provisions of the law “shall not be available when such request is made orally.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(A)(1)(B)(3)
How Requested? An agency may, but shall not be obligated to, require that all written requests be made . . . to one of the following: -agency director, chairperson or CEO -senior official at any satellite office -designated custodian of records -open records officer - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (b)(1)(B)
How Requested? CYA—If the request is not in writing, you write it out. Time and date stamp all requests.
The Clock’s Running The absence of the designated official “. . . shall not be permitted to delay the agency’s response. - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (b)(1)(B)
How Quick? “. . .within a reasonable amount of time not to exceed three business days of receipt of a request. . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (b)(1)(A)
How Quick? If the request is so large that it will take more than three days, within the three days “. . . the agency shall. . .provide the requester with a description of such records and a timeline for when the records will be available for inspection.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (b)(1)(A)
How Quick? The date of receipt, no matter when during business hours in the day, is day one of the three days.
Response to the Request --Determine if the records requested are open or closed. --If open, provide the records as quickly as possible --If closed, and out of the ordinary, contact your attorney within the 3 days --If closed, respond in writing, citing the specific legal authority for non-disclosure
If records are closed. . . Take The Three Days!!
Response for Open Records --Provide the copies as soon as possible --Have a written policy on “free” copies --If open and a large order, respond in 3 days with an estimate of the time to copy --written description of materials --time table for each step --estimate of cost (estimate high)
Responses for Open Records Include: --the format the information is in --paper --film --electronic documents --optical
Responses for Open Records Include: --content (what information is being provided --any information that is redacted --components if any
Responses for Open Records Include: --where and when the information will be provided --detailed timetable --how long to collect --how long to copy --how long to redact
Responses for Open Records Costs: --you may charge for searching for records. --you should have a written policy on how searches are conducted and who (by job title) does the search.
Copiers “At the time of inspection, any person may make photographic copies or other electronic reproductions of the records using suitable portable devices brought to the place of inspection.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(b)(1)(B)
Copiers But you have a responsibility to care for those documents. You must “. . .establish necessary safeguards against the removal or loss of records and such further safeguards as may be required. . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-94(6)
Charges $ “An agency may impose a reasonable charge for the search, retrieval, redaction, and production or copying costs for production of records. . .” “an agency shall utilize the most economical means reasonably calculated to identify and produce responsive, nonexcluded documents.”
Charges $ “Where fees for certified copies or other copies or records are specifically authorized . . . such fee shall apply. . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(C)(1)
Charges $ “. . . the charge for the search, retrieval, or redaction of records shall not exceed the prorated hourly salary of the lowest paid full-timeemployee who, in the reasonable discretion of the custodian of the records, has the necessary skill and traing to perform the request . . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71-(c)(1)
Charges $ “. . . provided, however, that no charge shall be made for the first quarter hour.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (c)(1)
Charges $ “In addition to [search charges]. . . an agency may charge a fee for the copying of records or data not to exceed ten cents per page for letter or legal size documents, . . . or the actual cost of producing the copy.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(c)(2)
Charges $ “In the case of electronic records, the agency may charge the actual cost of the media on which the records or data are produced.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(C)(2)
Charges $ “Whenever any person has requested to inspect or copy a public record and does not pay the cost for such retrieval. . .the agency shall be authorized to collect such charges in any manner authorized by law for the collection of taxes, fees or assessments. . .” O. C. G. A. 50-18-71 (C)(3)
Charges $ “In any instance in which an agency will seek costs in excess of $25.00. . .inform the requester of the estimate of the costs, and the agency may defer search and retrieval of the records until the requester agrees to pay the estimated costs. . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(d)
Charges $ “In any instance . . . Exceeds $500.00, an agency may insist on prepayment of the costs prior to beginning search, retrieval, review, or production of the records.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(d)
Charges $ If a person has not paid for a previous search and requests another search, “an agency may require prepayment for all future requests . . . until the costs for the prior production of records have been paid or the dispute regarding payment resolved.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(d)
Charges $ I cannot find the provisions which used to be in the law about how estimates could be altered.
Redacting Information When much of a document can be opened, but a small amount of information must be closed, the closed information can be “redacted” and the document provided in that form.
Redacting Information To redact information properly: --make a copy of the document --physically remove the closed information --make a copy of the copy with a “black” background --keep a copy of the redacted document in the file with the original
What is Closed? Records that don’t exist already: ”. . . nothing . . .shall require agencies to produce records in response to a request if such records did not exist at the time of the request.” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(b)(1)(A)
What is Closed? Reports, summaries, or compilations that do not exist already. - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(j)
What is Closed? Records being in electronic format does NOT exclude their production, so long as the information can be produced “. . . using existing computer programs that the agency uses in the ordinary course of business. . .” - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(f)
What is Closed? Electronic records can be provided in any standard electronic format (see IT) -O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(f)
What is Closed? Materials closed by Federal law and Presidential Directive: --Privacy Act --Executive Order (classified information) --Medical Information (HIPPA) - O. C. G. A. 50-18-71(a) - O. C. G. A. 50-18-72(a)(1)