Louisiana Freedom of Information Act
What is the Louisiana Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that allows individuals to view and make copies of public records in the custody of government agencies. The law ensures transparency in government. The Louisiana Public Records Law (Louisiana Revised statutes 44:1-41) allows persons 18 years and above to inspect and obtain copies of public records on request except where the records are specifically exempted by law. The Louisiana Public Records Law, also known as the Louisiana Sunshine law, was enacted in 1940, and it has undergone several amendments. The most recent revision was in 2021. The 2021 amendment included the exemption of blueprints, floor plans, or renderings of interiors of airport infrastructure.
What is Covered Under the Louisiana Freedom of Information Act?
The Louisiana Public Records Law (PRL) Section 44:1 defines public records as any material prepared or used in the conduct of public business by a public body. According to the law, a public body is any department, agency, board, branch, commission, district, political subdivision, governing authority under a parish, municipal, or state government. A Quasi-public nonprofit corporation that performs a governmental function is also considered a public body. Public records maintained by these agencies include documents, books, statistics, letters, maps, memos, emails, budgets, budget requests, tapes, payrolls, audiotapes, and video recordings. Copies, duplicates, photographs, and information contained in electronic data processing equipment are also considered public records.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Louisiana?
The Louisiana Public Records Law Section 44:1 exempts materials with security features such as telecommunication networks, electronic data processing systems, software securities, software configurations, and codes from public access. It also exempts blueprints or floor plans of the interior of public school buildings from public access. Convicts, who have exhausted all appeal options, are prohibited from requesting certain records. Other public records exempted from the Louisiana Public Records Law include:
- Records containing personal information
- Records in use in an investigation
- Records related to pending or anticipated criminal litigation
- Records that could identify confidential informants
- Tax returns
- Records of persons receiving entitlement payments
- Private citizen's confidential records in possession of a public agency
- Financial institutions records in the custody of public agencies
- Records in the custody of the department of conservation regarding natural reserves
- Records owned and maintained by the governor's office in the discharge of their duties
- Medical records of patients and hospital committees' proceedings
- Records containing trade secrets
- Test questions and other examination information
- Home addresses and phone numbers of public employees
How Do I File a Louisiana Freedom of Information Act Request?
Per the Louisiana Public Records Act, a public record request should be made to the custodian of records in the agency maintaining the record. The custodian of records is the head of the public agency maintaining the public records requested or an agency employee authorized to respond to public records requests. A requester can make a public record request orally or in writing, but only a written or electronically submitted request can be appealed if the agency denies the request. Most public agencies have forms that can be filled out and submitted online. A public record request should be as detailed and specific as possible. A public record request letter must indicate the requester's identity and contact details. The letter must also state whether the requester is a convicted felon. The purpose and use of the requested records do not have to be included in the request.
A requester is allowed by law to make an in-person oral request at the physical address of an agency to review a public record. The agency is bound by law to immediately present the record if the record is available and not being actively used. The agency must provide a reasonably comfortable place for the review. The custodian can prevent any alterations to the records being examined. The requester can request a copy of the record at a fee. If the record is not available, the agency must notify the requester in writing stating the reason for the unavailability of the records. A requester can make a public record request via mail, fax, email, or in person.
For instance, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry provides a Public Records Request Form for requesters to fill and submit via mail, email, or in person to the custodian of records. A requester can send the completed request form via email to publicRecords@ldaf.state.la.us. Mail and in person requests should be sent to:
Custodian of Records
Public Records Request
5825 Florida Boulevard, Suite 1000
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Phone: (225) 922-1234
The Louisiana Department of Revenue also accepts public records requests via email, mail, fax, and in-person delivery. The department provides a Public Records Request Form for requesters to fill and submit. The completed request form can be sent by email to LDR.PublicRecordsRequest@la.gov or fax to (225) 219-2759. The address for delivery is:
Louisiana Department of Revenue
Attention: Custodian of Records
617 North Third Street
P.O. Box 44098
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Louisiana?
Per the Louisiana Public Records Law Section 44:32, there is no cost to inspecting or making digital copies of a public record during regular working hours. A requester may be charged in advance if overtime is required to produce the record for inspection. State agencies are mandated by the Public Records Law to charge a uniform fee determined by the Louisiana Commissioner of Administration. The Commissioner of Administration recommends 25 cents per page for standard-size copies and the actual cost for other sizes. Other public agencies are required to charge reasonable fees for making copies. Records maintained on computer systems should be provided by electronic means where possible at no additional cost. Indigent citizens may obtain copies of public records free of charge or at reduced costs.
The Louisiana Department of Revenue provides a Uniform Fee Schedule along with the Public Records Request form. The regular fees include:
- Records copied on 8.5 by 14 inches papers - 25 cents per page
- Colored records copied on 8.5 by 14 inches papers - $1 per page
- Records copied on papers larger than 8.5 by 14 inches - actual cost
- Copy of disk, CD, video, or audiotape - $15 per CD/tape copied
- Copy of existing electronic file - 25 cents per paper copy
- Computer-generated report that requires data processing time - $15 per disk/CD/tape copied
- Postage and handling - actual cost
- Surcharge for every 100 pages copied - $10
- Certification of records copied - $5 per certification
The Louisiana Secretary of State’s fee schedule is as follows:
- Records copied on 8.5 by 14 inches papers - 25 cents per page
- Records copied on papers larger than 8.5 by 14 inches - Actual cost
- Certified records copies - $20 per page
- CD-ROM, USB, and email copy - 25 cents per copy
- Postage - actual cost
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Louisiana?
The Louisiana Public Records Law Section 44:35 stipulates the immediate release of a non-exempt public record upon request except where the record is not available or is in active use. Where a record cannot be released immediately, the record custodian has a maximum of three days to respond in writing, stating the time the record will be released. If the agency determines that the requested record is exempted by law, the response must state the specific law exempting the record. If the record is no longer in the agency’s custody, the written response must state in detail the reason for this and the current custodian of the record. Delay in responding to a record request may be due to the complexity of the request, the record being in active use, or the volume of the requested record.
A requester who is denied the right to access a public record can institute a civil suit after five working days of making the request. The suit must be filed against the custodian of the record in a District Court of the parish where the custodian is located. The law requires the court to act expeditiously in suits involving public record requests.
If the court determines that an agency did not comply with the law, the court may award penalties. The penalties include payment of attorney’s fees and other litigation costs incurred by the requester and up to $100 for each day the agency failed to explain the reason for the denial. The custodian and agency may each be penalized by the court. However, a custodian of records cannot be penalized if the action was based on the advice of the agency’s lawyer. Where the requester successfully proves that the agency’s actions caused actual damages, the court may award such damages.
The law also allows for criminal penalties for the violation of the law. Employees of agencies can be fined between $100 and $1,000 or imprisoned for between one and six months for first convictions. Subsequent convictions attract fines between $250 and $2,000 or imprisonment between two and six months, or both.