(Last updated August 14, 2021)
Where can the law be found? The law governing Maine public records is the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA). Enacted in the 1970s, the FOAA provides guidelines for what constitutes a public record, who has access to these records, how one can access them, and what remedies are available should the right of access be denied.
Who enforces the law? In accordance with section 410 of the FOAA, the Maine Attorney General and/or district attorney are tasked with enforcing the state’s public record law. However, as established by the FOAA, the Public Access Ombudsman reviews compliance complaints and tries to resolve them. The ombudsman’s reports and contact information can be found here.
What is considered a public record? According to section 402(3), a public record can take physical or electronic form. They must be made available for the public if they were produced or are in the custody of any agency, public official, or political subdivision of the state. Further, the record must be connected to the transaction of public or governmental business.
What records are exempt from the law? The text of the FOAA specifies at least 22 separate exemptions from disclosure requirements. However, section 402(3), states that exemptions exist aside from those spelled out in the FOAA if they are designated as confidential by statute. According to the state’s Right to Know website, there are over 300 statutory exemptions. The list of exemptions can be searched using the Maine Legislature’s Freedom of Access Statutory Exceptions Search.
What records are covered by the law? The FOAA applies to all entities if the record requested is in “connection with the transaction of public or governmental business” or contains “information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business.” This means, without a statutory exemption, records from the executive branch and records from the legislature (once signed) must be made accessible on request. The act also extends to traditionally non-governmental entities that function as government entities. Court records are not subject to FOAA but are instead released to the public according to another sets of rules determined by the judicial branch.
What is the request procedure? According to the state’s Right to Know website, there is no standard form or medium required for making requests. To make a request, one must simply contact the desired agency or office. The state has compiled a list of contacts that the public can use as a reference. The FOAA states that the agency must acknowledge the request within five business days and either deny or accept the request. A non-response constitutes a denial. The act does not specify a strict deadline for fulfilling and producing the records other than saying it must be within a reasonable or prompt time.
What are the fees? Section 408-A specifies a series of fees. The public agency is permitted to charge fees to cover copying costs, pay staff for every hour past one hour that it takes to fulfill the request, and other more specific costs. To view specific cost information, consult section 408-A(8). (Note: The Legislature in 2021 amended FOAA to make the first two hours of staff time free with a charge of $25 per hour if more time is needed. These changes are expected to become effective later this year.)
What is the appeals process? The only option to appeal is to file a claim in Superior Court. All appeals in court are given expedited and prioritized treatment. While there is a state ombudsman for public records guidance, the position does not have any statutory authority to hear appeals.