Open records – Why they matter

Published 4:29 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

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The Alabama House of Representatives will soon consider a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s open records law.

The bill, SB196, passed the Senate Thursday and includes provisions requiring public officers to trim down acknowledgement and response times for a request for open records.

Currently, the Alabama Open Records Law provides citizens with the right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of the state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.

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Some Alabama citizens may wonder, “Why are time limitations for open records requests important?”

Open records laws are designed to ensure government accountability, transparency, and integrity. Initially enacted in 1923, the Alabama Open Records Law or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) permits citizens to partially or fully access records in the custody of the government, but not in the public domain.

The lack of a prescribed time can delay the requester’s receipt of needed information. Under the law, public access is granted to a multitude of information including arrest reports, petitions, Alabama court records, vehicle license tag records, municipal internal audit reports, and several other types of data.

The law does not prescribe a defined processing time for public records requests, but government agencies are generally required to respond within 20 days for receiving requests.

As a nation governed “by the people, for the people” American people must have information about state operations, in order to ensure their interests are protected. 

Alabama citizens may avail themselves of the opportunity to be involved in the governing or the nation, state, and community. Legislation which strengthens access to needed information can only improve their ability to assess government operations and take steps to affect change where needed.

Citizens who wish to express their opinions regarding this bill may contact their local representative. For information about Alabama’s legislature, visit