The policy statement on public records found in 1 V.S.A. § 315 calls for the free and open examination of records, but acknowledges that certain records should be protected from public inspection to safeguard the privacy of individuals.
Under the Public Records Act, all public records are open to public inspection unless specifically exempted by law. A core set of these exempt records are outlined in 1 V.S.A. §317. The legislative history of this section and its 40 exemptions are listed below.
Many exemptions also exist outside of 1 V.S.A. §317 and can be found by using the Right to Know Database.
1 V.S.A. § 317. Definitions; public agency; public records and documents (view the legislative history notes).
(a) As used in this subchapter:
(1) “Business day” means a day that a public agency is open to provide services.
(2) “Public agency” or “agency” means any agency, board, department, commission, committee, branch, instrumentality, or authority of the state or any agency, board, committee, department, branch, instrumentality, commission, or authority of any political subdivision of thestate.
(b) As used in this subchapter, “public record” or “public document” means any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business. Individual salaries and benefits of and salary schedules relating to elected or appointed officials and employees of public agencies shall not be exempt from public inspection and copying.
(c) The following public records are exempt from public inspection and copying (view the legislative history notes):
(1) Records which by law are designated confidential or by a similar term;
(2) Records which by law may only be disclosed to specifically designated persons;
(3) Records which, if made public pursuant to this subchapter, would cause the custodian to violate duly adopted standards of ethics or conduct for any profession regulated by the state;
(4) Records which, if made public pursuant to this subchapter, would cause the custodian to violate any statutory or common law privilege other than the common law deliberative process privilege as it applies to the general assembly and the executive branch agencies of the state of Vermont;
(5) Records dealing with the detection and investigation of crime, including those maintained on any individual or compiled in the course of a criminal or disciplinary investigation by any police or professional licensing agency; provided, however, that records relating to management and direction of a law enforcement agency; records reflecting the initial arrest of a person, including any ticket, citation, or complaint issued for a traffic violation, as that term is defined in 23 V.S.A. § 2302; and records reflecting the charge of a person shall be public;
(6) A tax return and related documents, correspondence and certain types of substantiating forms which include the same type of information as in the tax return itself filed with or maintained by the Vermont department of taxes or submitted by a person to any public agency in connection with agency business;
(7) Personal documents relating to an individual, including information in any files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote or discipline any employee of a public agency, information in any files relating to personal finances, medical or psychological facts concerning any individual or corporation; provided, however, that all information in personnel files of an individual employee of any public agency shall be made available to that individual employee or his or her designated representative;
(8) Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination instruments or data used to administer a license, employment, or academic examination;
(9) Trade secrets, including any formulae, plan, pattern, process, tool, mechanism, compound, procedure, production data, or compilation of information which is not patented, which is known only to certain individuals within a commercial concern, and which gives its user or owner an opportunity to obtain business advantage over competitors who do not know it or use it, except that the disclosures required by 18 V.S.A. §4632 shall not be included in this subdivision;
(10) Lists of names compiled or obtained by a public agency when disclosure would violate a person's right to privacy or produce public or private gain; provided, however, that this section does not apply to lists which are by law made available to the public, or to lists of professional or occupational licensees;
(11) Student records, including records of a home study student, at educational institutions or agencies funded wholly or in part by state revenue; provided, however, that such records shall be made available upon request under the provisions of the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-380) and as amended;
(12) Records concerning formulation of policy where such would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, if disclosed;
(13) Information pertaining to the location of real or personal property for public agency purposes prior to public announcement of the project and information pertaining to appraisals or purchase price of real or personal property for public purposes prior to the formal award of contracts thereof;
(14) Records which are relevant to litigation to which the public agency is a party of record, provided all such matters shall be available to the public after ruled discoverable by the court before which the litigation is pending, but in any event upon final termination of the litigation;
(15) Records relating specifically to negotiation of contracts including but not limited to collective bargaining agreements with public employees;
(16) Any voluntary information provided by an individual, corporation, organization, partnership, association, trustee, estate, or any other entity in the state of Vermont, which has been gathered prior to the enactment of this subchapter, shall not be considered a public document;
(17) Records of interdepartmental and intradepartmental communications in any county, city, town, village, town school district, incorporated school district, union school district, consolidated water district, fire district, or any other political subdivision of the state to the extent that they cover other than primarily factual materials and are preliminary to any determination of policy or action or precede the presentation of the budget at a meeting held in accordance with section 312 of this title;
(18) Records of the office of internal investigation of the department of public safety, except as provided in 20 V.S.A. § 1923;
(19) Records relating to the identity of library patrons or the identity of library patrons in regard to library patron registration records and patron transaction records in accordance with chapter 4 of Title 22;
(20) information which would reveal the location of archeological sites and underwater historic properties, except as provided in 22 V.S.A. § 762;
(21) Lists of names compiled or obtained by Vermont Life magazine for the purpose of developing and maintaining a subscription list, which list may be sold or rented in the sole discretion of Vermont Life magazine, provided that such discretion is exercised in furtherance of that magazine's continued financial viability, and is exercised pursuant to specific guidelines adopted by the editor of the magazine;
(22) Any documents filed, received, or maintained by the agency of commerce and community development with regard to administration of 32 V.S.A. chapter 151, subchapters 11C and 11D (new jobs tax credit; manufacturer's tax credit), except that all such documents shall become public records under this section subchapter when a tax credit certification has been granted by the secretary of administration, and provided that the disclosure of such documents does not otherwise violate any provision of Title 32;
(23) Any data, records or information developed, discovered, collected, or received by or on behalf of faculty, staff, employees or students of the University of Vermont or the Vermont state colleges in the conduct of study, research or creative efforts on medical, scientific, technical, scholarly, or artistic matters, whether such activities are sponsored alone by the institution or in conjunction with a governmental body or private entity, until such data, records or information are published, disclosed in an issued patent or publicly released by the institution or its authorized agents. This subdivision applies to, but is not limited to, research notes and laboratory notebooks, lecture notes, manuscripts, creative works, correspondence, research proposals and agreements, methodologies, protocols, and the identities of or any personally identifiable information about participants in research;
(24) Records of, or internal materials prepared for, the deliberations of any public agency acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity;
(25) Passwords, access codes, user identifications, security procedures and similar information the disclosure of which would threaten the safety of persons or the security of public property;
(26) Information and records provided to the department of banking, insurance, securities, and health care administration by an individual for the purposes of having the department assist that individual in resolving a dispute with any person or company regulated by the department, and any information or records provided by a company or any other person in connection with the individual's dispute;
(27) Information and records provided to the department of public service by an individual for the purposes of having the department assist that individual in resolving a dispute with a utility regulated by the department, or by the utility or any other person in connection with the individual's dispute;
(28) Records of, and internal materials prepared for, independent external reviews of health care service decisions pursuant to 8 V.S.A. § 4089f and of mental health care service decisions pursuant to 8 V.S.A. § 4089a;
(29) The records in the custody of the secretary of state of a participant in the address confidentiality program described in chapter 21, subchapter 3 of Title 15, except as provided in that subchapter;
(30) All code and machine-readable structures of state-funded and controlled database applications, which are known only to certain state departments engaging in marketing activitiesand which give the state an opportunity to obtain a marketing advantage over any other state, regional or local governmental or nonprofit quasi-governmental entity, or private sector entity, unless any such state department engaging in marketing activities determines that the license or other voluntary disclosure of such materials is in the state's best interests;
(31) Records of a registered voter's month and day of birth, motor vehicle operator's license number, the last four digits of the applicant's Social Security number, and street address if different from the applicant's mailing address contained in an application to the statewide voter checklist or the statewide voter checklist established under 17 V.S.A. § 2154;
(32) With respect to publicly-owned, -managed, or -leased structures, and only to the extent that release of information contained in the record would present a substantial likelihood of jeopardizing the safety of persons or the security of public property, final building plans and as-built plans, including drafts of security systems within a facility, that depict the internal layout and structural elements of buildings, facilities, infrastructures, systems, or other structures owned, operated, or leased by an agency before, on, or after the effective date of this provision; emergency evacuation, escape, or other emergency response plans that have not been published for public use; and vulnerability assessments, operation and security manuals, plans, and security codes. For purposes of this subdivision, “system” shall include electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, telecommunication, elevator, and security systems. Information made exempt by this subdivision may be disclosed to another governmental entity if disclosure is necessary for the receiving entity to perform its duties and responsibilities; to a licensed architect, engineer, or contractor who is bidding on or performing work on or related to buildings, facilities, infrastructures, systems, or other structures owned, operated, or leased by the state. The entities or persons receiving such information shall maintain the exempt status of the information. Such information may also be disclosed by order of a court of competent jurisdiction, which may impose protective conditions on the release of such information as it deems appropriate. Nothing in this subdivision shall preclude or limit the right of the general assembly or its committees to examine such information in carrying out its responsibilities or to subpoena such information. In exercising the exemption set forth in this subdivision and denying access to information requested, the custodian of the information shall articulate the grounds for the denial;
(33) The account numbers for bank, debit, charge, and credit cards held by an agency or its employees on behalf of the agency;
(34) Affidavits of income and assets as provided in 15 V.S.A. § 662 and Rule 4 of the Vermont Rules for Family Proceedings;
(36) Anti-fraud plans and summaries submitted by insurers to the department of banking, insurance, securities, and health care administration for the purposes of complying with 8 V.S.A. § 4750;
(37) Records provided to the department of health pursuant to the patient safety surveillance and improvement system established by chapter 43a of Title 18;
(38) Records held by the agency of human services, which include prescription information containing prescriber-identifiable data, that could be used to identify a prescriber, except that the records shall be made available upon request for medical research, consistent with and for purposes expressed in 18 V.S.A. §§ 4621, 4631, 4632, 4633, and 9410 and chapter 84 of Title 18, or as provided for in chapter 84A of Title 18 and for other law enforcement activities;
(39) Records held by the agency of human services or the department of banking, insurance, securities, and health care administration, which include prescription information containing patient-identifiable data, that could be used to identify a patient;
(40) Records of genealogy provided in support of an application for tribal recognition pursuant to chapter 23 of this title.