What fees are associated with requesting public documents?
- The fee an agency or official may charge to search for, retrieve and compile a requested public record may not exceed $10 per hour after the first hour of staff time per request. Compiling the public record includes reviewing and redacting confidential information.
- The agency or official must provide the requester an estimate of the time necessary to complete the request and of the total cost. If the estimate of the total cost is greater than $20, the agency or official shall inform the requester before proceeding.
- If the estimate of the total cost is more than $100, an agency or official may require a requester to pay all or a portion of the costs before they proceed to find and copy the records.
Fees may be exempted under the following circumstances:
- The requester is indigent.
- The release of the public record requested is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
What public documents are exempt from Maine’s public access law?
There are fifteen total exemptions under Maine law, including:
(1) Material prepared and used for negotiations, including those used for bargaining proposals;
(2) Records and working papers used by or prepared for faculty and administrative committees of the Maine Maritime Academy, the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System;
(3) Records describing security plans, security procedures or risk assessments prepared specifically for the purpose of preventing or preparing for acts of terrorism;
(4) Personal contact information concerning public employees (“public employee” does not include elected officials)
To read the list of exemptions in its entirety, click here.
Do I need to identify myself or explain why I want a public record when requesting one from a public agency?
When requesting a public record, you are not required by law to identify yourself, or explain why you would like to view or copy the record.
The agency or official having custody of the public record is required to respond to your request within a reasonable period of time after the request is made.
To view a sample letter for requesting a public record, click here:
What is the definition of a public record?
“Public records” means any written, printed or electronic data in the possession or custody of a Maine agency or public official or any of its political subdivisions, or any data that has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business.
To view the list of records that are exempt from public access, click here.
Which branches of government are included and exempted under Maine’s public access law?
- Executive branch
The records of the executives themselves, such as governor, mayor, or commissioner of a department, are subject to the Act if the records have been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or government business or if they contain information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business. All records relating to the transaction of governmental or public business are available for inspection and copying. Purely private or personal records are not subject to disclosure.
- Legislative branch
Records of the Legislature itself are subject to the Freedom of Access Act, but legislative papers and reports, working papers, drafts, internal memoranda, and similar works in progress are not public until signed and publicly distributed in accordance with rules of the Legislature.
- Judicial branch
The courts are not subject to the Freedom of Access Act, although the legislature has, by statute, limited access to certain court records of proceedings affecting a significant personal right, such as juvenile proceedings, proceedings regarding sterilizations for incompetent people, and approval of a minor’s abortion.
For more information, see section I.B. of the Open Government Guide. Click here.
What public records are available online?
The Maine Secretary of the State provides online access to a number of public records including:
What can I do if a public agency refuses to release a document?
Any person may appeal a decision within 5 working days of the written notice of denial. The appeal may be made to any Superior Court within the State. If the court determines the body or agency acted illegally, the action that was taken by the body or agency will be declared to be null and void and the officials responsible will be subject to penalties.
To find out where an appeal may be sent, reference the List of Maine Superior Courts
To view a sample letter for appealing a decision, click here:
For what reasons may a public agency close a meeting or call an executive session?
With some exceptions, all public proceedings are, by definition, open to the public, and any person is permitted to view the record or minutes of public proceedings.
A public agency may call for an executive session only by a public, recorded vote at which 3/5th of its members are present and voting. The motion to go into executive session must delineate the nature of the business to be discussed, and indicate under which authority the business falls that permits closing the meeting to the public. During the closed session no ordinances, orders, rules, resolutions, regulations, contracts, or appointments, among other official actions, may be approved.
Under state law, a session may be closed for several reasons, including:
- For the discussion or consideration of employment related issues such as the appointment, evaluation, disciplining, resignation or dismissal of an individual.
- For the discussion or consideration by a school board of suspension or expulsion of a public school student or a private school student whose education is subsidized by public funds.
- For the discussion of labor contracts and proposals between a public agency and its negotiators.
To see the law on executive sessions in its entirety, click here.