To help increase transparency and public awareness of government decision-making, all 50 states have enacted laws that require certain government records to be open to the public. At the same time, some records are exempt from public access and disclosure, such as information related to physical or digital security, sensitive personal information and records that are restricted by federal law.
In most states, legislatures are subject to the public records laws that apply to other public entities. However, these laws may contain exemptions that apply to the legislative branch, either for certain offices, such as the auditor or legal services, or for certain types of correspondence and documentation related to working papers, bill drafts and other records.
In addition to specific exemptions, a legislature or legislators may be: 1) exempt from public records statute (e.g., Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wyoming); 2) excluded from the definition of an agency or public body that is subject to public records statute (e.g., Georgia, Minnesota); 3) covered by a separate public records statute (e.g., California); or 4) allowed to set their own public records policies and processes (e.g., Mississippi, New York).
Court decisions or attorneys general opinions in some states have also held that the separation of powers doctrine prevents the courts from enforcing public records statutes against the legislature (e.g., Georgia, Indiana, Iowa), or that constitutional, statutory, parliamentary and common law provisions exempt certain types of records from disclosure (e.g., Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire). These decisions and opinions commonly make reference to the speech and debate clause in Article I, Section 6, of the U.S. Constitution, along with a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gravel v. United States that affirmed certain protections for members of Congress and their staff.
However, because of variations in state statutes and constitutions, court decisions and attorneys general opinions in other states have ruled against legislative privilege in favor of increased public access to legislative records generally (e.g., Washington) and with regard to specific types of records (e.g., New York, North Carolina).
The following table provides links to state public records statutes. The list is not meant to be exhaustive and may not reflect annotations or revisions from recent legislation. This information is not intended to provide legal advice related to public records or retention thereof. If you have recommendations for additions, changes or updates to the list, please contact NCSL staff by clicking on the email icon.