Wyoming Freedom of Information Act
What is the Wyoming Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act is a series of laws that permits members of the public to view and copy public records. The Freedom of Information Act promotes the transparency of the activities of the government. The Freedom of Information Act in Wyoming is known as the Public Records Act. The law grants Wyomingites the right to inspect and copy public records. The Wyoming Public Records Act was enacted in 1978. Over the years, the Wyoming State Legislature has reviewed the Wyoming Public Records Act to increase its scope and accommodate more exemptions. For instance, in 2016, HB0013 exempted communication between students, or students and non-students in the state from the Wyoming Public Records Act.
Similarly, in 2019, the General Legislative Session passed SF0057, which required all public records requests to be submitted to the designated records custodians in public agencies. It also mandated the release of requested public records within 30 days of the request receipt unless the requester and the record custodian agree that the request is delivered on a different date. SF0057 also modified penalties and specified remedies for public record requests violations. Finally, it authorized the governor-appointed ombudsman to receive complaints of violations.
In addition to the amendments, SF0082 was passed in 2020. SF0082 modified the provisions relating to the ombudsman and made the state governor responsible for appointing the ombudsman. It also specified the functions of the ombudsman, which includes:
- Receiving records of all state government entities
- Mediating disputes between government entities and requesters
- Educating government agencies on the role of the ombudsman
- Keeping confidential records of all government records in their custody
SF0082 modified the salary reporting requirement of various government agencies by requiring base annual salaries to be reported instead of the gross monthly salaries.
What is Covered Under the Wyoming Freedom of Information Act?
The Wyoming Freedom of Information Act covers all records created or received by government agencies regardless of their physical forms. Generally, the Wyoming Freedom of Information Act covers official records and files, such as:
- Original vouchers, receipts, and other papers used to authenticate financial transactions
- Agreements and contracts involving the state or a state agency
- Bonds, including fidelity, surety, and performance bonds
- Documents and claims kept or filed against the state or any agency
- Transcripts from public meetings and hearing
- Correspondence with government agencies
- Survey plans
The Act also covers electronic recording, such as scanned documents, voice and video recordings, structured electronic contents, text messages, tweets, and unstructured electronic documents.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Wyoming?
In line with Section 16-4-203 of the Wyoming Public Records Act, several types of records are exempted from disclosure because their disclosure may:
- Negatively impact the interest of private businesses
- Jeopardize the privacy of individuals
- Affect the functioning of a government
- Be detrimental to state security
These records are classified as discretionary or mandatory exemptions. Discretionary exemptions are records that may be denied because their release is contrary to the public interest. Discretionary exemptions include:
- Intra-agency documents that would not be available by law during litigation
- Investigatory records
- State building records that jeopardize the security of any structure owned, leased, or operated by the state
- Specific details of research projects of state institutions
- Real estate appraisals except as otherwise provided in the statute
- Applications for the position of president in a higher institution like a university or a college
- Academic records
On the other hand, mandatory exempt records include:
- Students school district records
- Income tax records
- Hospital records
- Trade secrets, privileged information, confidential commercial and financial information
- Adoption and welfare records
- 911 emergency calls
- Employees personnel files
- Medical records
- Investment fund committee records
- Information about agricultural operations
How Do I File a Wyoming Freedom of Information Act Request?
Generally, the process of filing a public record request in Wyoming involves a requester submitting a written request to the designated public records custodian of the agency in possession of the records. The Department of Administration and Information provides a detailed public records contact list for all agencies in the state. When a records custodian receives a record request, they will verify whether the requested record is in the custody of the agency or not. If the record is not in the custody of the agency, the designated public record custodian will notify the requester within seven days and provide the contact details of the agency in possession of the record. On the other hand, if the agency has the requested record, the agency will determine whether the record is in active use or it is unavailable. If the record is available, the requester and the agency will agree on a timeline for the release of the record. If the record custodian chooses to deny the request and withhold the record, they must notify the requester of their decision to withhold the record.
Various government agencies provide alternate ways through which records requests may be sent. For example, the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information permits the designated records custodians of other agencies to request records by sending emails to email@example.com. However, individuals must send written public records requests to the Department of Administration and information at:
The Department of Administrations and Information
2323 Carey Avenue
Cheyenne, WY 82002
In addition, some agencies maintain databases of records of their websites. For example, the Budget Department provides state budgetary information on their public-facing Budget Department - Transparency website. The agency also provides links to financial information about various agencies in the state. Written public records requests may be sent to the Budget Department at:
The Budget Department
State Library Building
2800 Central Avenue
Cheyenne, WY 82002
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Wyoming?
FOIA requests in the State of Wyoming are free for public records that do not require copying or production. On the other hand, Section 16-4-204 of the Wyoming Public Records Act authorizes the records custodian to determine a reasonable fee for records requests that involve making copies of any sort. The standard fees for the production cost of public records are as follows:
- $15.50 per hour for clerical staff time
- $30 per hour for information technology staff time
- $40 per hour for professional staff time
These fees would only be charged for records production that cost more than $180. For example, if the actual production cost for a record is $230, the requester will pay only $50, as the free $180 will be subtracted from the actual cost, $230. Record production costs that are less than $180 are produced for free. Scanned copies are produced at 10 cents per page.
On the other hand, for non-electronic records production, standard copying, scanning, and mailing fees are applicable. Copies on a standard letter paper (8.5x11)” black and white cost 10 cents per page and colored copies are 60 cents per page. Similarly, copies produced on legal (8.5x14)” paper are 25 cents per page for black and white and $1 per page for colored. For other sheet sizes, photographs, production of copies outside the agency, and other special instances, the actual cost of production is charged. The custodian may charge for direct costs involved in producing the records and the time spent locating the records. All payment for the production of copies of a record must be made directly to the record custodian before the records are produced.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Wyoming?
Generally, Section 16-4-202 of the Wyoming Public Records Act mandates that available records be released immediately, provided the release of the records does not affect the function of the agency. Otherwise, requests must be responded to within 30 days or mutually agreed upon dates. Factors such as the volume of requested records, location of requested records, and complexity of requested records may affect how quickly certain records are made available.
Per Section 16-4-202 (C) (IV) of the Wyoming Public Records Act, requesters may file complaints or seek clarifications on records requests that are unjustly denied or delayed by filing complaints with the Public Records Ombudsman. Requesters who are not satisfied with the ombudsman's decision may seek further redress in a District Court within the state. Per Section 16-4-205 of the Wyoming Public Records Act, violations of the provisions of the Wyoming Public Records Act are punishable with fines of up to $750.