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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VII, Issue 10||October 2004|
By Peggy Reinsch
A very important piece of the legal landscape for public entities is the concept of freedom of information - the publics right of access to government activities and records. In Maine, the governing statutes are the Freedom of Access (FOA) laws, found in Title 1, chapter 13, subchapter I, of the Maine Revised Statutes.
These laws, to be construed liberally, provide that the publics business must be conducted openly, that actions must be taken openly and that records of such actions must be open to the public. The Freedom of Access laws apply to employees of public entities and quasi-public entities, so it is important to understand responsibilities concerning public records.
Just what is a "public record"? The statute provides a very broad definition:
Committee to Study Compliance with Maines Freedom of Access Laws Concerned that public records access was not available as intended, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition (www.mfoic.org) conducted an audit of public records accessibility, and then was instrumental in the establishment of the Committee to Study Compliance with Maines Freedom of Access Laws. (Resolve 2003, chapter 83.) The 16-member study committee, comprised of representatives of the public, the press, broadcasters, law enforcement, school districts, local government, the Attorney General and the Legislature, met throughout the fall and winter, and made several recommendations to improve and ensure access to public records and public proceedings.
The study committees initial report is available online: http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/FOAlaws.htm. The Legislature enacted recommendations concerning the inspection and copying of public records, the handling of executive sessions, and the examination of the hundreds of statutory exceptions to the law defining "public records". Public Law 2003, chapter 709 also expanded the duties of the study committee and extended the reporting deadline to November 2004.
The Committee to Study Compliance with Maines Freedom of Access Laws is now reviewing the laws and practices governing: to what extent the home contact information of public employees should be designated as confidential; appropriate charges for copies of public records; appropriate charges for remote electronic access to public records; voice-mail and e-mail; conducting public proceedings electronically; attorneys fees and remedies for noncompliance; standardization and clarification of the public access and confidentiality laws; and other options for improving compliance with the laws and enhancing public access to public proceedings. The study committees schedule is posted on the webpage: http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/FOAlaws.htm.
Peggy Reinsch is a senior legislative analyst in the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis, a nonpartisan staff office of the Maine Legislature. She has served as staff attorney for the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary for several years and is currently also co-staff for the Committee to Study Compliance with Maine's Freedom of Access Laws. You can reach her at email@example.com.