The public has a right to hear and learn what goes on in their government. However, sometimes local, state and federal governments do not provide the transparency that their constituents deserve.
The state of Ohio has passed two laws to help combat this issue. Known as the Sunshine Laws, these give residents access to government records and meetings.
Public Records Act
According to the Ohio Attorney General, the Public Records Act defines the rights of the public and the obligations of a public office in regard to records. A member of the public has the right to request copies of, or to inspect public records, and no specific reason is necessary.
A public office must maintain records and keep them well-organized. An office must also provide copies at cost or record inspection for free within a reasonable time frame.
Open Meetings Act
The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to conduct official meetings in open meeting settings that members of the public may attend. There must be proper notice given regarding these meetings, and the public body must take and maintain the minutes of the meetings, which are also available to the public.
Exceptions to the laws
The Ohio State Bar Association discusses certain exceptions to the Sunshine Laws. Under the Public Records Act, specific records that are not available to the public include:
- Medical records
- Adoption records
- Confidential investigatory records from law enforcement
- Trial preparation documents
In regard to the Open Meetings Act, a public body may meet behind closed doors if it is an executive session. With these meetings, however, the public body must follow specific protocols and make the public aware of the meeting.