Connecticut Freedom of Information Act
What is the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act?
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) refers to legislation enacted in a state that ensures the full or partial disclosure of unreleased information and documents controlled by government agencies. To obtain information under this Act, a request must be submitted to the relevant authorities in line with the requirements of the law. Records covered under this law can be requested by anyone (irrespective of their citizenry), and they need not provide a reason for requesting the records.
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees access, by the general public, to the public records and meetings of government agencies in the state. These include any information or data that has been recorded and retained by a public agency that is related to the conduct of public business in the state. The Connecticut FOIA was initially enacted in 1975 as a series of laws intended to increase the transparency in the activities of government agencies to members of the general public. Numerous amendments have been made to the original law since its inception to make it more encompassing and representative of the times.
The Connecticut FOIA also established the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) and charged it with the administration and enforcement of the provisions of the Act. The FOIC ensures the general public has access to public records and meetings of public agencies and bodies in Connecticut. The FOIC also addresses the concerns of persons who believe their FOIA requests were wrongfully denied by hearing appeals.
What is Covered Under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act?
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) encompasses all public records of the executive, legislative, judicial, and administrative branches of the government of Connecticut State. Public records in Connecticut include the information and statistics that were prepared, utilized, owned, obtained, and retained by any public agency in the state. Such records may be handwritten, typewritten, audio, video, printed copies, photocopies, photographs, or any other medium.
The Connecticut FOIA also comprises the Connecticut Open Meetings Law; this law prescribes access, by members of the general public, to public meetings. A public meeting is a gathering of, or communication to, a quorum of members of a multi-member government agency to discuss or decide on public policy. Exceptions to this definition of a public meeting include:
- Employment search committees for executives.
- Personal matters.
- Administrative staff meetings.
- Security strategy.
- Collective bargaining and negotiation sessions.
- Chance meetings.
- Pending litigation negotiations.
- Single-party caucus meetings (provided a quorum is not constituted).
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Connecticut?
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act stipulates that there be records and documents that are specifically exempted from the provisions of the Act. These records include:
- Preliminary drafts or notes of the deliberative processes of public officials whose disclosure do not outweigh the public benefits of withholding them.
- Personnel or medical files and similar files of which the disclosure would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.
- Records of law enforcement agencies about cases that are still currently in the pre-trial or trial phase or which would place victims or culprits in danger.
- Strategy or negotiation concerning pending litigation.
- Trade secrets.
- Financial information that is not required by statute.
- Licensing tests and statements of personal worth.
- Collective bargaining session records and reports.
- Personal information such as names and addresses of students enrolled in schools
- Adoption records.
- Work product.
- Complaint reports.
- Any information that may put at risk the security at a correctional facility, infrastructure, telecommunications, or the security of an individual.
- Home addresses of persons listed in the Address Confidentiality Program.
Exemptions to the FOIA were implemented to address the privacy concerns of the owners of the information. Also, the exemptions sought to facilitate the free flow of information by concealing the thought processes behind decisions and ease the ability of citizens to provide public officials with their opinions.
How Do I File a Connecticut Freedom of Information Act Request?
Anyone in Connecticut can make a Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and the requester is not required to state a purpose for the request. FOIA statutes also do not restrict how any information obtained using the Act may be used.
A person making a FOIA request in Connecticut has the right to view the record only or obtain copies of the record. A FOIA request must be made directly to the agency with custody of the specific record and may be requested in writing by officials of the agency. Every public agency in the state is staffed with a FOIA Administrator in the Commissioner’s Office, who oversees all requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. There was no universal form introduced for submitting a FOIA request in Connecticut. Rather, each agency advises applicants about specific procedures they have in place.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), like most state public agencies, offers its own FOIA Request form (.doc|.pdf) for persons requiring information under the Act. Completed DEEP FOIA request forms can be submitted by email, faxed to (860) 424-4053, or sent by regular mail to:
Office of the Commissioner
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street, 3rd Floor
Hartford, CT 06106
The Department of Agriculture (DOAG) also provides persons requesting agency records under the FOIA with a FOIA Request form. Request forms should be completed and returned to the Department by email or by regular mail sent to:
Department of Agriculture
450 Columbus Boulevard
Hartford, CT 06103
Details and forms for FOIA requests to other public agencies in Connecticut are available on the official agency websites.
FOIA requests can also be handwritten by the persons seeking the information. Persons submitting written FOIA requests (see sample) are required to state the records they require clearly enough to enable the easy retrieval of these records by agency officials. All requests for information from media houses and their representatives are treated as FOIA requests by the custodian agencies.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Connecticut?
Section 1-212 of the Connecticut FOIA prescribes a fee for the time expended by officials to retrieve the records and for obtaining copies of records. State agencies may charge up to 25 cents per page and municipal agencies may charge up to 50 cents per page. There are extra charges for certified copies of records and for retrieving records from electronic media. There is no charge for only viewing requested records. The FOIA also states criteria wherein fees for obtaining records under the Act may be waived. These are:
- If the request is made by an indigent individual.
- If the records are exempt, under Connecticut statutes.
- If disclosure is deemed to benefit the general public welfare.
- If the records are requested by elected officials and it pertains to their official duties.
- If the records are requested by a public defender (or attorney assigned as such) and it pertains to their duties.
Most state agencies, such as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, charge $1 for the first page and 50 cents subsequently, for certified copies of records. If the total costs of the documents exceed $10, the requester will be required to pay before receiving the document copies.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Connecticut?
The amount of time it takes to receive a response to a Freedom of Information Act request depends on the procedures of the agency in the custody of the records. FOIA statutes in Connecticut direct that a response to a FOIA request must be made within 4 days of the agency receiving the request. However, this will most likely be an acknowledgment of receipt of the request from the FOIA Administrator. Record searches and final responses to requests can take anywhere from 2 - 12 weeks. The agency processing a FOIA request will inform the requester of the number of documents that are contained in the request, once the search is completed.
Persons who have their FOIA requests refused by the custodian agencies of the records can appeal the decisions. To appeal a decision, the appellant must file a complaint directly with the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC). Complaints about record requests must be filed by the requesters within 30 days of receiving the refusals. Complaints about unannounced or secret meetings must be filed within 30 days of the complainant receiving constructive notice of the meeting being held. FOIA complaints must be in writing and must include:
- The complainant’s details - name, address, telephone number, email address.
- A concise statement enumerating the relevant facts, including the dates, times, and details of the agencies and officials involved.
- A description of the requested records or reference to the meeting dates.
- An explanation of any unusual circumstances surrounding the complaints.
- Copies of any pertinent communications or documents.
Freedom of Information Commission
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105
Fax: (860) 566-6474
Persons who require clarifications on FOIA requests, appeals, and any other procedures can contact the FOIC on (860) 566-5682 or toll-free on (866) 374-3617.