Mississippi Freedom of Information Act
What is the Mississippi Freedom of Information Act?
Passed by Congress in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives United States citizens the right to access the records of federal agencies so that they can understand the government’s activities and operations. All states in the United States have FOIA-type laws. The FOIA adaptation in Mississippi is the Mississippi Public Records Act. Enacted in 1983 by the Mississippi legislature, the Mississippi Public Records Act is codified in Section 25-61-1 et. seq. of the Mississippi Statutes Annotated.
The Mississippi Public Records Act (PRA) makes a provision for any person to inspect, copy, or mechanically reproduce or obtain a copy of any public record except where exemptions under the law apply. The Act does not require requesters to state the reasons for requests. Per the PRA, providing access to public records is considered the duty of each public body. Each public body must also ensure that automation of public records does not erode the right of access to the records maintained. The Mississippi PRA stipulates that the vested right of individuals to access public records must be balanced against the custodian's responsibility to preserve such records to ensure their integrity.
The Mississippi PRA was established to show transparency by the government in the conduct of the people's business and also improve participation in governance by the members of the public.
What is Covered Under the Mississippi Freedom of Information Act?
Except where another statute forecloses disclosure, all public records of public bodies in the state are covered under the Public Records Act. Pursuant to Section 25-61-3 of the Mississippi Statutes Annotated, a public body refers to any department, divisions, bureau, commission, council, committee, subcommittee, board, agency, and any other entity of the state or its subdivision. The term also includes any municipal corporation or entity established by the law or Constitution, executive order, ordinance, or resolution. The governing board of a charter school approved by the state Charter School Authorizer Board is also covered under Mississippi's definition of a public body.
On the other hand, public records refer to all records, books, papers, letters, accounts, maps, films, photographs, tapes, cards, recordings or reproductions, and any documentary materials irrespective of characteristics or physical form. These materials must have been used, be in use, prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the performance or transaction of any business, work, transaction, duty, or responsibility of a public body, or required to be maintained by a public body.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Mississippi?
The Mississippi Public Records Act lists certain records that are exempted from public disclosure under Sections 25-61-11 and 25-61-12 of the M.S.A. These include:
- The home address, name, telephone number, or other personal information of any individual who possesses a weapon permit issued pursuant to Section 45-9-101 or Section 97-37-7 M.S.A.
- Academic records as stated under MSA 37-11-51
- Appraisal records exempt under MSA 31-1-27
- Archaeological records exempt under MSA 39-7-41
- Attorney work product, examination, exemption under MSA 25-1-102
- Birth defects registry under MSA 41-21-205
- Bureau of vital statistics records exempt under MSA 41-57-2
- Information related to charitable organizations, as exempted under MSA 79-11-527
- Environmental self-evaluation reports as exempted under MSA 49-2-71
- Hospital records exempted under MSA 41-9-68
- Individual tax records in possession of public bodies as exempted under MSA 27-3-77
- Risk-based capital level requirements and reports of insurance and insurance companies as exempted under MSA 83-5-415
- Judicial records as exempted under MSA 9-1-38
- Jury records exempted under MSA 13-5-97
- Licensure application and examination records exempted under MSA 73-52-1
- Medical examiner reports and records exempted under MSA 41-61-63
- Personnel files exempt from examination under MSA 25-1-100
- Trade secrets, proprietary commercial and financial information exempted under MSA 79-23-1
- Workers' compensation records exempted under MSA 71-3-66
- The home address, telephone number of a privately paid account, or private information of a law enforcement officer, judge, district attorney, judge, or the child or spouse of the law enforcement officer, criminal investigator, judge, or district attorney
- Personal information of victims, such as victim impact statements and letters of support on behalf of victims that are included in records on file with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and State Parole Board
- Records of a public hospital board pertaining to the acquisition or sale of medical or other practices or other business activities, including recruiting doctors and other healthcare professionals.
How Do I File a Mississippi Freedom of Information Act Request?
The Mississippi PRA does not mandate specific methods for making public records requests. However, MSA 25-61-15(1) requires public bodies to adopt written procedures stating the time, place, and method of requests which must be reasonable. Typically, the policy or procedures stated will also identify the agency's office or employee to whom the request must be made. Public record requests are usually preferred in writing by many public agencies in Mississippi.
To obtain a record, you must first identify the agency maintaining the record. You do not need to present a statement of purpose or state what the record will be used for before making a request. After identifying the agency that maintains the record you intend to obtain, you may access a PRA request form from the agency's website. Although not all organizations provide this option to requestors, a substantial number do. As a result, you may either submit an online fillable PRA request form or download a request form that can be completed and delivered to the address shown on the form.
Requests for public records may also be made officially in writing to the agency that maintains the desired record. When submitting written requests, provide as much information as possible to assist the agency in locating the record and contacting you for further correspondence.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency
External Affairs Division
P.O. Box 5644
Pearl, MS 39288
Alternatively, completed MEMA public records request forms may be e-mailed to email@example.com or faxed to (601) 933-6810.
To make a public record request to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), members of the public may complete the public records request online form. Requesters may also fill out the Public Records Request paper form (for mailing). Return completed forms to:
Public Records Liaison
Office of Communications, Osborne 100
Mississippi State Department of Health
P.O. Box 1700
Jackson, MS 39215-1700
The MSDH also allows requesters to submit a request, on an organization or individual letterhead, marked "Request for Public Records," describing in precise detail the information required along with the date, requester's name, address, and telephone number.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Mississippi?
Pursuant to MSA Section 25-61-7, each public body in Mississippi may establish and collect fees for obtaining public records maintained by the agency. However, the fee will not exceed the actual cost of searching, reviewing, duplication, and, if applicable, mailing copies of the requested record to the requester. The Mississippi PRA stipulates that any staff time or contractual services rendered by the record custodian and calculated to be included in the actual cost charged must be at the pay scale of the lowest level employee or contractor competent to respond to the request. Such fee is also required to be collected by the record custodian in advance of complying with the request. For example, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) charges the following for public record requests:
- No charge for inspection of public records
- $10 per hour for clerical assistance.
- $40 per hour for professional and technical assistance.
- $0.25 per copied page.
- $0.10 per scanned page.
- Associated delivery costs.
- Other costs as determined due to the nature of a specific request.
Also, a record custodian may establish a standard fee scale to reimburse it for the costs of making, acquiring, or maintaining a geographic information system or multipurpose cadaster as permitted and defined in accordance with MSA 25-61-1 et.seq., or other electronically accessible data. Still, the Mississippi PRA requires that such fees be reasonably related to the costs of making, acquiring, and maintaining the information or record. The PRA recommends that agencies consider the type of information requested, the purpose for which the request has been made, and the commercial value of the information in determining the fees to charge requesters who make this type of public record request.
Note that under MSA 25-61-5 (2), if a requested record contains exempted materials, the public agency will make only the nonexempted material available for inspection or copying. The public agency is also authorized to charge a reasonable fee for the redaction of any exempted material up to the agency's actual cost.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Mississippi?
According to MSA 25-61-5, public bodies are required to develop policies for public record requests which will state the time required for the agency to respond to requests. However, if a public body has not adopted written procedures or policies, a requester must be given the right to inspect, copy, or mechanically reproduce a reproduction of a public record within one working day after a written request has been made. Still, pursuant to MSA 25-61-5, no public body may adopt policies that authorize the body to produce or deny public request requests later than 7 working days from the date of the receipt of the request.
Per MSA 25-61.5(b), If a public body is unable to produce a public record seven days after a request, the public body must provide the requester with a written statement expressing that the requested record will be produced and presenting in detail why the records cannot be produced within the 7-day period. Unless the parties agree otherwise, or the record sought is part of ongoing discussions linked to a request for competitive sealed bids, the public body must not provide the requested record any later than 14 working days following the receipt of the initial request.
If a public agency denies providing access to a public record within the stipulated time, the requester may attempt to enforce the provisions of the Mississippi PRA either through the Mississippi Ethics Commission or through filing a lawsuit at the chancery court in the county in which the public agency is located. You may use the complaint form on the Ethics Commission website to file a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission. If a lawsuit is filed with the chancery court, the court will conduct a de novo review. If a remedy is sought with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, the decision of the Commission may also be appealed to the chancery court. Per MSA 25-61-13, persons filing complaints in the chancery court must serve written notices upon the Ethics Commission when filing the complaint. The written notice is only for information and does not make the Commission a party to the case.