- All branches of government are subject to the law
- Plenty of time (60 days) to appeal
- Fee waivers are left to agency’s discretion
Alaska maintains one of the broadest public records laws in the country. Every branch of government is subject to the law and requests can be submitted in any form, from an in-person request to an email. The law also provides clear pathways to appeal decisions or ensure agencies provide timely responses to requests. Overall it seems like Alaska’s public records law was passed with the intent of allowing the public to access the mechanisms of it’s government and the state seems to take that obligation fairly seriously.
There are few exemptions on which records can be disclosed, from expected scenarios like juvenile, medical, or active investigation records, to more particular ones like reports on boat accidents, records identifying participants in state savings and trust programs, and notifications to businesses regarding pending legislation. One notable exemption is how the Alaska Railroad Corporation is not classified as a state agency.
- 10-day response time
- Very broad, applies to all branches of state government with few exemptions
- Anyone may file, even non-residents
- Appeal is permitted within 60 days of denial
Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?
Yes. All records are open to the public, not only citizens.
AS § 40.25.110 (a):
Unless specifically provided otherwise, the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under reasonable rules during regular office hours. The public officer having the custody of public records shall give on request and payment of the fee established under this section or AS 40.25.115 a certified copy of the public record.
To whom does this apply?
The Alaska Public Records Act is intentionally broad, not excluding any particular branch of government.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Is there a designated records custodian?
The law makes reference to, but does not set aside a provision for, a designated records custodian within an agency.
Who is exempt?
One notable exemption is that the Alaska Railroad Corporation is not regarded as a state agency.
How can requests be submitted?
The Alaska Administrative Code describes the ways in which requests can be submitted to and accepted by an agency. The preferred way to submit is in writing, with oral requests accepted but possibly denied. The oral request is denied if it is not fulfilled in 5 days, where the only recourse is to file the request in writing.
Yes, either by submitting a written request or by making an oral request.
How long do they have to respond?
No longer than 10 business days.
Except as otherwise provided in this section, as soon as practicable, but not later than the 10th working day after the date the agency receives a request for public records that complies with this chapter, the public agency shall<br/> (1) furnish all requested records that are disclosable; and<br/> (2) advise the requester which of the requested records are nondisclosable, if any, and the specific legal authority and specific facts supporting nondisclosure.
Are there provisions regarding the extension of response times?
Yes, the agency must notify the requester of the extension within the initial 10 days and give a reason for the extension.
A public agency may extend the basic 10-working-day period established under (a) of this section for a period not to exceed 10 additional working days by providing notice to the requester within the basic 10-working-day period. The notice must state the reasons for the extension and the date by which the office expects to be able to furnish the requested records or to issue a determination that the records are not disclosable. The notice must include a statement that the extension is not invoked for purposes of delay. The basic 10-day period may be extended only when one or more of the following circumstances exist, and then only as to those specific documents within the request as to which the circumstances apply:<br/> (1) there is a need to search for and collect the requested records from field or other offices that are separate from the office responsible for maintaining the records;<br/> (2) there is a need to search for, collect, and examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records sought in a single request;<br/> (3) there is a need for consultation with an officer or employee who is absent on approved leave or official business;<br/> (4) the basic response period comes during a peak workload period; or<br/> (5) there is a need to consult with legal counsel to ensure that protected interests of private or government persons or entities are not infringed.
Does the agency have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?
There is no explicit requirement for tracking numbers or estimated completion dates.
Can they ask why you ask?
There is no explicit limit to access based on why records are being requested.
Very little explicit enforcement, injunctive relief is permitted against anyone obstructing access to public records.
A person having custody or control of a public record who denies, obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, or a person not having custody or control who aids or abets another person in denying, obstructing, or attempting to obstruct, the inspection of a public record subject to inspection under AS 40.25.110 or 40.25.120 may be enjoined by the superior court from denying, obstructing, or attempting to obstruct, the inspection of public records subject to inspection under AS 40.25.110 or 40.25.120. A person may seek injunctive relief under this section without exhausting the person’s remedies under AS 40.25.123 - 40.25.124.
Fees are allowed, but are required to be kept to a minimum.
AS § 40.25.110 (b):
Except as otherwise provided in this section, the fee for copying public records may not exceed the standard unit cost of duplication established by the public agency.
Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?
There are no fee waivers for media requests specifically, but an agency may waive feeds if they determine it is in the public interest.
AS § 40.25.110 (d):
A public agency may reduce or waive a fee when the public agency determines that the reduction or waiver is in the public interest. Fee reductions and waivers shall be uniformly applied among persons who are similarly situated. A public agency may waive a fee of $5 or less if the fee is less than the cost to the public agency to arrange for payment.
Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?
Under Alaska court rules, the winner of a legal dispute is entitled to recover a portion of its costs from the other side.
There used to be provisions for public interest litigants to recover full fees if they won and not pay anything if they lost, but that was abolished in 2003.
Exemptions and Appeals
What exemptions exist?
Explicit exemptions are listed in AS § 40.25.120 and they include:
- vital statistics and adoption proceedings
- juvenile records
- medical and related public health records
- records required to be kept confidential
- certain law enforcement records, including:
- records on active investigations
- records that would interfere with trials
- records on confidential informants
- records that would disclose law enforcement techniques, practices, or guidelines
- records that would endanger the life or safety of an individual
- identifying information of participants in the state’s savings and trust programs
- information on electronic signatures
- reports concerning boat collisions or accidents
- evaluations or preparations regarding state security
- written notification regarding proposed regulation
AS § 40.25.140 sets aside library records as confidential.
AS § 40.25.151 sets aside retirement records of state employees as confidential.
Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?
The law does not explicitly require agencies to explain their nondisclosure of portions of exempted information within a document, however they must provide a legal basis for the wholesale denial of a request.
An initial denial of a written request must be in writing; must state the reasons for the denial, including any specific legal grounds for the denial; and must be dated and signed by the person issuing the denial. If a request is denied by a public agency employee to whom denial authority has been delegated, the notice of denial must reflect this delegation. A copy of 2 AAC 96.335 - 2 AAC 96.350 must be enclosed with the denial.
How much time do you have to appeal?
You have 60 days to appeal.
To whom does the appeal go?
An administrative appeal is sent to the head of the agency, while requests for injunctive relief against an agency is sent to the Alaska superior court.
Can you appeal a delay?
Yes. To do so, you must make explicit note of the delay, as well as include the initial date of the request and the expected response date. You will have 60 days from the expected response date to appeal the delay.
Do agencies have to tell you where to send your appeal?
They don’t have to tell you where to send the appeal, but they do need to tell you about your ability to file an administrative appeal or request injunctive relief from the superior court.
What if your appeal is denied?
If an administrative appeal is denied, the next step is to appeal the denial decision to the superior court.
Where else can you turn?
Appeals can be brought to the state’s ombudsman or Attorney General, but these officials are under no legal obligation to provide assistance.
Are all appeals kept officially?
The following organizations offer resources for those seeking public records in Massachusetts:
Attorneys and Law Firms
The following attorneys and law firms have practiced public records law. Names marked with an asterisk have indicated a willingness to offer pro bono services on a case by case basis:
News Stories on Public Records Laws in the State
Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in Massachusetts
Public Records Guide and Advice
Big FOIA wins
Have a public records success story? Let us know!
- Request Record
- 105 Filed
- 36 Completed
- 6 Rejected
- 19 No Responsive Documents
- 9 Awaiting Acknowledgement
- 9 Awaiting Response
- 7 Requiring Action
- 17 Overdue
- Allowed Response Time
- 10 days
- Average Response Time
- 54 days
- Success Rate
- Average Fee
- 10.48% of requests have a fee
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