Arkansas Freedom of Information Act
What is the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that permits the public to access all records or information kept by government agencies, provided they are not exempt from disclosure. The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1967. Per Section 25-19-105 of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a person may inspect and copy public documents during the record custodian's office hours. The Act also permits records to be copied through image capture.
There have been several modifications to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act since it was established in 1967, the most recent being House Bill 1557, approved in 2019. This Bill created an exemption of security plans related to medical marijuana facilities from the Arkansas FOIA. Similarly, Section 6 of Senate Bill 371, approved in 2019, repealed Section 25-19-105(b)(17) of the Act. Other amendments to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act include:
- Senate Bill 999, approved in 2015, exempted audit reports for institutions of higher education from the Freedom of Information Act
- House Bill 2132, approved in 2017, created the Freedom of Information Task Force to evaluate and recommend modification to the Freedom of Information Act of 1967
- House Bill 1417, approved in 2019, exempted the identity of individuals assisting with criminal investigations
What is Covered Under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act?
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act covers all the state's public records. These records include those kept, created, or used in/by government offices while conducting their normal business activities. They also include all writings, audios, films, tapes, electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations in any medium that the law recognizes. Under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of 1967, Arkansans may access court records, bankruptcy rulings, criminal records, municipal internal audit reports, and tax liens. These records may be shared with requesters as paper documents or electronically.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Arkansas?
Arkansas exempts certain records from the state's FOIA. This is because disclosing them may pose a security risk to the state, invade individuals' privacy, or reveal information that may jeopardize public safety. Typically, records exempt from the Arkansas FOIA are considered confidential. Per Section 25-19-105(b) of the Arkansas Freedom Of Information Act, the following records are exempt from the state's FOIA:
- Records of state income taxes
- Records of Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Arkansas Archeological Survey maintained by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
- Minutes of a grand jury meeting
- Medical records, adoption records, and educational records of minors in line with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974
- Drafts of judicial or quasi-judicial opinions and rulings that are yet to be published
- Details of confidential criminal investigations by law enforcement agencies
- The memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the governor, members of the general assembly, supreme court justices, the court of appeals judges, and the attorney general which are yet to be published
- Records containing information about security measures or procedures used to access a computer system or network. These include passwords, personal identification numbers, transaction authorization mechanisms, and other means of preventing unauthorized access to a computer or network.
- Documents that are prohibited from disclosure by order of a court
- Information that would give an advantage to competitors or bidders if released. Such information includes records maintained by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission related to any business entity's plan, site location, expansion, operations, or product development. However, records of grants and expenditures made by the commission are not exempt
- The names of law enforcement officers currently working undercover for the Arkansas Department of Public Safety. However, records of the number of undercover officers and agency lists are not exempt.
- Personal contact information, including home or mobile telephone numbers, personal email addresses, and home addresses of non-elected civil servants
- Testing materials such as exam questions and answers used by the state boards and commissions to test candidates for licensing
- The Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty of the United States Department of Defense, or military service discharge papers
- Vulnerability assessments submitted to the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency for ten years from the date of submission
- Records relating to Department of Human Services risk or security assessment
- Information on any public water system security, including analyses, investigations, studies, reports, recommendations, requests for proposals, drawings, diagrams, blueprints, and designs
- Records containing information that if disclosed might jeopardize or compromise efforts to secure and protect the public water system
- Records relating to the issuance, renewal, expiration, suspension, or revocation of a license to carry a concealed handgun
How Do I File an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Request?
An Arkansas FOIA request may be made in person, by telephone, mail, electronic mail, or by other electronic means directly to an agency record custodian. A person may seek a copy of a public document in any media in which it is publicly available or in any format that the custodian's existing software can easily convert. A custodian is not required to compile information or create a record the agency does not have in response to a FOIA request.
Arkansas' government agencies have different ways by which a person may make a FOIA request. For instance, the Department of Human Services requires requesters to obtain public records by completing and submitting a FOIA Request Form online.
Similarly, the Arkansas Secretary of State's Office requires requesters to complete and return a Records Request Form, alongside the proof of payment in person or by mail at/to:
Arkansas Secretary of State
1401 West Capitol Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72201
Fax: (501) 682-3437
The Arkansas State government provides the public with a directory of major public offices in the state where they can direct their FOIA requests.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Arkansas?
Under the Arkansas FOIA, the cost of a FOIA request must not exceed the actual cost of reproducing the record. This fee may include the expenses of the medium of reproduction, supplies, equipment, and maintenance. The record custodian may charge the cost of mailing or transmitting by other electronic means. If the estimated fee exceeds $25, the custodian may require the requester to pay that fee in advance.
A custodian may offer discount rates for a record request if it is for non-commercial purposes and in the best interest of the public. Under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a record custodian must furnish a requester with the breakdown of all charges. A custodian may agree to produce a record in an electronic format that is not easily convertible. However, where the time spent doing this exceeds 2 hours, the record custodian may bill additional fees.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Arkansas?
The time taken by government agencies to respond to Arkansas FOIA requests vary based on several factors, including:
- Location of the records
- Need for attorney general opinion based on confidentiality concerns
- The volume of records requested
- The method of transmission to the requester
According to the FOIA, record custodians must evaluate whether requested records are exempt from disclosure within 24 hours of receiving such requests. If the subject of a record cannot be reached in person or by phone within 24 hours, the custodian must deliver written notice to them at their last known address through overnight mail. The custodian, requester, or subject of the records may seek the Attorney General's opinion to determine if the information requested is exempt from FOIA. The Attorney General must issue an opinion within three working days after receiving the request. Any individual who is denied the right to view or copy public records can file a complaint with the Pulaski County Circuit Court or any other circuit court of competent jurisdiction. The court will hear the petition within seven days of the petitioner's application date.