Procedure and Enforcement
The provisions in 1 V.S.A. § 318 lay out the process for public agencies to follow when responding to requests to access public records. They impose time limits on an agency for responding to record requests; outline what an agency must do when it denies a request; and establish an appeals process for individuals who are denied access. Most of these provisions were adopted under the first public records law, Act 231 of 1976.
Subsequent amendments to the process have aimed at improving records access and making public agencies more accountable when they deny requests. For example, Act 132 of 2006 required that an agency explain the basis for a denial in writing. In relation to the appeals process, Act 110 of 2008 similarly required agency heads to put their decisions in writing and required them to cite the statutory basis for a denial. Most recently, Act 59 of 2011 required agencies to more closely cooperate with individuals requesting information in order to fulfill their requests and it also required agencies to redact exempt information from a record rather than deny access to the entire record.
The original public records act also provided for judicial review of the denial of access to public records. Found in 1 V.S.A. § 319, individuals denied access by an agency may petition the Civil Division of the Superior Court to review the agency’s actions. The language in the section was first amended by Act 59 of 2011. Prior to 2011, if a court overturned an agency’s decision to deny access, the court had the option of ordering the agency to pay attorney fees and other litigation costs. Act 59 removed this option and instead mandated that courts award attorney fees if a complainant substantially prevailed against an agency.