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Freedom of Information

You have the right to access information about how your government works. This is a little understood tool for many advocates. Generally, it is not necessary. Most government bodies are more than willing to share their work. The huge increase in information available on the web, particularly for the General Assembly, is a testament to Connecticut state government's openness. Most state employees know that you have a legal right to the information and are thrilled that someone has noticed the work they do. In recent memory, advocates have only had to invoke this right with the Department of Social Services. DSS has also recently begun to charge selected advocates the maximum amount of 25 cents per page for copies, as is their right under the law.

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.

-- Mark Twain

 

At the state level, this right is guaranteed by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Under the Act, you can obtain records and attend meetings of all public agencies, with some minor and understandable exceptions for sensitive information. Public agencies include state and local government agencies, departments, boards, commissions, and some private entities. This applies to executive, administrative, legislative, and judicial offices. You are entitled to receive a copy of the notice, agenda, minutes and vote record of a meeting. Most records and files of state and local agencies are available for inspection or copying.

The FOI Act is enforced by the state Freedom of Information Commission. They have been extremely helpful. If you have any questions or a request for information is being ignored, denied or delayed, contact them. You have 30 days after a denial to file a complaint with the Commission.

Usually, all that is needed is a call to someone at an agency and they will send you the documents. Some may ask you to put the request in writing; generally they will let you know what to include in the letter and how to send it (email, FAX or snail mail). It is important to be reasonable; broad requests can be burdensome for people at the agency and give you far more information than you want. Be as specific as possible; it is best if you can identify the exact documents you need. Click here for FOI contacts at health-related government agencies in Connecticut

If the agency is not being cooperative, put your request in writing and mail it to the agency. You can call the Freedom of Information Commission for help in drafting the letter. Address your letter to the Commissioner of the agency or the highest-ranking person. You can send a copy to your legislators as well. State that you are requesting the information under the Freedom of Information Act. You are not required to list the purpose you are requesting the information for. Then follow up. Call the agency, find the person responsible for requests, be sure they have your letter, and ask when you can expect the document. And keep calling until you get what you need.

Again, it is rare that requests for information become contentious. If you are polite and are creating good working relationships with policymakers, this will likely never come up.

RELATED ARTICLES

Freedom of Information Contacts

Navigating the Legislative Process

Administrative Advocacy

How to work with a lobbyist

The Importance of Legislative Staff

Regulations

Research - Finding and Using Data

Tips No Advocate should forget

Effective Communications

Connecticut's Budget Process

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