Read our 50 States of FOIA Profile for Iowa Here
Kathleen Richardson is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit that offers legal assistance to journalists and concerned citizens, and the Director of Drake University’s School of Journalism. She described some of the government transparency issues Iowa struggles with.
Police Investigation Reports
“One major problem is with police investigative reports,” she said. “There’s an exception to Iowa’s FOIA law that says the time, place and manner of a crime can be kept confidential by police departments if they feel it necessary, even after a case is closed.” Iowa reporter Jared Strong, who Muckrock spoke to in an Q&A about working in his state, said that “It’s definitely restrictive sometimes. With police investigative reports, they’re required to release the ‘immediate circumstances’ of the case, but there’s a lot of grey area there.”
Under a similar exemption, government personnel records are pretty restricted. “Compensation records are required to be open, but basically there’s nothing else available,” she said. “It’s like there’s a black hole in information about government employees.”
Richardson and the Iowa FOI Council are smoothing the process along, however. According to one of Richardson’s annual reports on the FOI Council’s activity they can now help get records filed in a number of ways.
- Give informal and formal advice via it’s hotline, (515-271-2295)
- Issue declaratory orders with the force of law
- Mediate disputes
- Enforce the law through contested-case proceedings under the Administrative Procedures Act
Recent FOIA Legal Action in Iowa
- Volunteers of a regional planning commission conducted a vote in secret, realized it was illegal, owned up to the courts about what had happened and were deemed immune from the law, due to the fact that their violation was unintentional.
- An exception addressing the Iowa Department of Aging, now mandates confidentiality of client records in compliance with federal law.
- A new exception allows government agencies to keep their mass email lists (for routine notices) confidential.The exception is meant to shield the email addresses of people who sign up for email alerts from being released to commercial interests or spammers.
- A new code states that sunshine laws now cover the new Mental Health and Disability Services Regions, which are replacing county mental health services.
In Iowa there are no restrictions based on citizenship or who one can request documents from. There is a 20 day response time but not one that is strictly enforced, nor is it mandated they tell you if your record search will take more time than allocated. There is no designated public records custodian or ombudsman to facilitate in the appeals process, only the state’s Citizen’s Aide who deals with complaints and questions, but has no authority over public records. The Citizen’s Aide can only advocate. Due to this, appeals must be filed in District Court through a judicial review. This must be done by 30 days after the denial is handed down. Enforcement was knocked down from a misdemeanor to a series of fines in 2011, with the harshest penalty a removal of position for custodians of records that have violated FOIA protocol twice. Fees are to be kept to the actual cost of the work the agency did to search for records and their copying. Disappointingly, there is no mandate in Iowa that requests for the public interest or for media purposes be waived.
Exemptions in Iowa number over 50 and are highly specific. While the majority of them are similar to exemptions found federally and in many other states, there are a couple exceptions. For one, Government personnel records are very difficult to obtain in Iowa, and police departments have a broad degree of autonomy in deciding whether or not to release information regarding investigations. It is more or less entirely up to them whether they feel they should or not.
Loosely enforced response time of 20 days All branches of government requestable No limitations on who can request can request a rehearing by agency which denied a request or can file for judicial review in the District Court *No specific position in charge of handling FOIA appeals and complaints
Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?
To whom does this apply?
Yes, it is the nature of the document in custody of the court that determines whether it can be released. Simply being held by the court system does not preclude it from disclosure.
Is there a designated records custodian?
Not specifically. However the Citizen’s Aide/Ombudsman is an agency tasked with handling questions and complaints from civilians. This includes public records complaints and questions. The Citizen’s Aide does not have any authority to issue appeals decisions, compel agencies to disclose information, or penalize an agency for failing to do so.
Who is exempted?
No agency is exempted from the law. “It is the nature and purpose of the document, not the place where it is kept, which determines its status.” 79 Op. Att’y Gen. 19, 20 (Oct. 9, 1979). Des Moines Independent Community School District Public Records v. Des Moines Register & Open Government Guide Iowa The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Page 3 Tribune Company, 487 N.W.2d 666, 670 (Iowa 1992)
How can requests be submitted?
How long do they have to respond?
The language is vague here, saying that agency response time “should not exceed twenty calendar days and ordinarily should not exceed ten business days.” Iowa Code § 22.8(4)(d). There is no set expiration date by which a request is considered denied.
Does the agency have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?
Can they ask why you ask?
Language making denying or refusing a request knowingly a misdemeanor was repealed in 2011. Currently if an agency or other custodian of records is found by judicial review to be guilty of improperly denying a request they can expect to be forced to release the denied documents, and can expect a fine of not more than $500 and not less than $100. If they knowingly denied the request improperly then a maximum fine of $2,500 or a minimum of $1,000 can be levied. Furthermore, the agency or custodian found to be guilty must also pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees. If an agency employee is found to have violated the chapter previously, then an order for removal of office or post will be given.
Fees are mandated to be kept to reasonable rates not exceeding the actual cost to the agency whether for “supervisory” (Iowa doesn’t charge search fees instead opting for supervisory) reasons or for copying. They can ask for advance payment.
A list of example fees charged by Iowa agencies can be found here
Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?
There is no language mandating fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest. It is entirely up to the agency to decide whether to charge a fee.
Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?
Yes, if one is able to prevail in court then attorney’s fees can be rewarded.
Exemptions and Appeals
What exemptions exist?
There are over 50 exemptions in the Iowa Public Records Law. Most deal with subjects found in other FOIA laws. Medical reports dealing with personal information, documents dealing with students, trade secrets, procedure to deal with prison riots, certain financial information, and prospective real estate deals or appraisals. Many exemptions are meant to prevent the disclosure of confidential information of individuals or of agencies that need that information to be tightly controlled in order to best execute their jobs. Government personnel records are unusually restricted in Iowa, as are police investigative reports. Even after a case is closed Police Departments in Iowa do not have to specify the date, time, place or manner of a crime unless they see fit.
Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?
How much time do you have to appeal?
You have 30 days after a denial is issued to file for judicial review in District Court.
Can you appeal the courts?
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.
There are currently no experienced public records law attorneys that we know of in Iowa. Write to us at info@MuckRock.com if you know of any and want to help us out!
News Stories on Public Records Laws in the State
Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in Iowa
Public Records Guide and Advice
Big FOIA wins
Have a public records success story? Let us know!
- Request Record
- 76 Filed
- 40 Completed
- 4 Rejected
- 14 No Responsive Documents
- 3 Awaiting Acknowledgement
- 3 Awaiting Response
- 6 Requiring Action
- 5 Overdue
- Allowed Response Time
- 10 days
- Average Response Time
- 35 days
- Success Rate
- Average Fee
- 15.79% of requests have a fee
Top Agencies See All
|Iowa Department of Public Safety||126||667|
|Department of Corrections||58||267|
|Iowa City School District||37||38|
|Iowa State University||15||66|
|Office of the Governor - Iowa||11||28|
|Department of Natural Resources||11||0|
|Treasurer of the State of Iowa||9||0|
|Office of the Attorney General - Iowa||9||19|
|Iowa Insurance Division||7||70|
|Iowa Economic Development Authority||6||0|
Top Localities See All
|Iowa City, IA||37||38|
|Lee County, IA||5||16|
|Harrison County, IA||0||0|
|Ringgold County, IA||0||0|