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Access to Public Records Act (APRA) R.I. Gen. Laws § 38–2
The Access to Public Records Act, or APRA, is the Rhode Island state law that gives individuals the right to see and obtain public records. The law provides guidelines for obtaining access to these records, and also defines which records are subject to public inspection and which are exempt.
All state and local governmental agencies are public entities and are subject to APRA. This means that every public body or entity is re-sponsible for maintaining records and docu-ments for public review, inspection and copy-ing. The law also applies to various so-called “quasi-public” agencies. Judicial bodies are subject to APRA only in respect to their ad-ministrative functions.
A “public record” is broadly defined to include all materials generated or collected by public entities in connection with the conduct of official business. That includes written documents, photographs, tape records, and other records in electronic format, including emails. With one important exception, the law does not require public bodies to reorganize or compile requested data (i.e., create a new document) in a form not maintained by the agency. However, if the requested records are in electronic format and the agency would not be unduly burdened in reorganizing the data as requested, it is obligated to provide the information.
There are more than two dozen exemptions to what records are accessible to the public, many of them designed to protect individual privacy. Investigatory records of public bodies are also largely exempt. However, an entire document cannot be withheld if only part of it contains information that is exempted from disclosure. In those instances, the documents should be provided with only the exempt information deleted. If an entire record is withheld, the public body must certify that no portion of the document is releasable.
For many years, APRA had a broadly-worded exemption that barred any disclosure of most personnel records or other records identifiable to a particular individual. Under a 2012 amendment to the law, however, those types of records are now exempt only if their disclosure would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” However, medical records, attorney-client documents and other records deemed confidential by other federal or state laws remain exempt from disclosure.
Each agency is required to have procedures for granting access to public records, and so the process may vary slightly from agency to agency. These procedures should be available on the agency’s website and otherwise made available upon request. As a general rule, it is advisable to put your request in writing, although a public body cannot require written requests for documents that are prepared for, or readily available to, the public.