(Last updated July 12, 2022)
Where can the law be found? The law governing Rhode Island public records is the Access to Public Records Act, also known as APRA. The APRA provides guidelines for what constitutes public records, how one can access them, and what remedies are available should that right of access be denied. To access the text of the law itself, visit the Rhode Island General Assembly’s website. Access to public records is controlled by section 38-2.
Who enforces the law? Under section 38-2-8, the Rhode Island Attorney General has the authority to review complaints and file lawsuits on behalf of the public interest.
What is considered a public record? According to section 38-2-2(4), a public record can take any physical form as long as it is made or received in connection with the transaction of official business.
What records are exempt from the law? The text of the APRA specifies at least 29 separate exemptions from disclosure requirements. In addition to the exemptions listed in the statute, certain statutes or rules may also make a record exempt from disclosure.
What records are covered by the law? According to section 38-2-3(a), APRA applies to any “agency” or “public body,” which includes any executive, legislative, judicial, regulatory, or administrative body of the state, including quasi-public agencies, or any political subdivision.
What is the request procedure? Section 38-2-3(d) requires each agency to establish and post the procedures by which the public can request records from that agency as long as the procedure is not contrary to the law. The procedures should identify a designated public records officer or unit, how to make a public records request, and where a public record request should be made. According to section 38-2-3(e), the agency or public body has 10 business days to permit a requester to inspect or receive copies of the requested records. The public body, however, can take an additional 20 days to comply due to the volume of records requested, number of pending requests, or the difficulty in searching or copying records.
What are the fees? Consistent with section 38-2-4(a), an agency may charge up to 15 cents per page, in addition to the reasonable and actual cost of retrieving paper or electronic records from storage. Costs for labor to search and retrieve records can also be charged, but at a rate that does not exceed $15 an hour. A person may seek a waiver of the fees if the information sought is determined to be in the public interest because that information is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of government operations or activities. This waiver must be sought in court.
What is the appeals process? Section 38-2-8 sets forth the procedures for appealing a denial of access to public records. If an agency denies a person the right to inspect or copy records, the requester may submit an administrative appeal with the agency’s chief administrative officer, the highest authority of the agency, who must make a determination within 10 days. The requester may also forego appealing to the chief executive of an agency and file an immediate complaint with the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General will then investigate and may commence a lawsuit against the agency if he or she determines that allegations in the complaint are meritorious. The requester also has the option to file a lawsuit for injunctive or declaratory relief in the superior court of the county where the record is maintained.