Nebraska Freedom of Information Act
What is the Nebraska Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal Act that provides for the public to inspect and copy federal agency records. The FOIA is applicable only to federal agencies and not states in the United States. However, all states have enacted their own adaptions of the federal Act. The public record law in Nebraska is the Nebraska Public Records Statutes (NPRS). The NPRS is codified in Nebraska Revised Statutes Sections 84-712—84-712.09 and uses the same basic format as the federal FOIA, although some of the stipulated processes vary significantly. The NPRS is established on the presumption that all government records are open for public inspection and copying and then excludes specific types of records that the government is prohibited from releasing.
The Nebraska public records statutes are a series of statutes that permit citizens of Nebraska and all other persons interested in the inspection of public records to do so. The NPRS does not condition access to public records on the purpose for which the records are sought. No specific limitations are also placed on the use of information publicly disclosed.
In enacting the public record law in Nebraska, the state legislature expressed the government's intent that the development and shaping of public policy is public business and may not be carried out in secret. The NPRS shows the statutory commitment of state authorities to openness in government which in turn aids the development and maintenance of confidence and participation in government by the public. The basic text of the Nebraska Public Records Statute has been in effect since 1866. The text was amended in 1961 to allow the public to make memos and abstracts from public records. The statutes were also amended in 2000 to expressly provide residents and interested parties the right to access copies of public documents.
What is Covered Under the Nebraska Freedom of Information Act?
Under the Nebraska public records statutes, all public records of all governmental bodies at state and local levels of government are subject to disclosure except where a record must remain confidential under law.
Pursuant to Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 84-712.01(1), public records are all documents and records, regardless of physical form, of or belonging to the state, county, city, village, any political subdivisions, or a tax-supported district, department, board, and commission of any of those mentioned above. The public record may be construed liberally to include documents and records that a public body is entitled to possess, irrespective of whether the public takes possession.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Nebraska?
Per Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 84-712.05, the following category of records may be prohibited from public disclosure:
- Students' or prospective students' personal information except for routine directory information permitted under the federal Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA).
- Trade secrets, scientific and academic research work ongoing and unpublished, and other proprietary or commercial information which may offer an edge to business competitors and serve no public purpose if disclosed.
- Medical records except for birth and death records and specific investigatory records
- Documents that an attorney-client privilege would cover if a public entity serves as the client
- Records created or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with investigative or examination operations when the records are used in connection with the examination, investigation, intelligence information, citizen complaints, informant identification, or information used in law enforcement training.
- Appraisals and appraisal information, as well as negotiating documents, relating to the acquisition or sale of real or personal property by a public body prior to completion of the purchase or sale.
- Personal information of employees of public agencies except for records of salaries and routine directory information. Routine directory information refers to the name, job, gross pay, date of employment, and date of disengagement of an employee or former employee.
- Information that is relevant primarily to the protection of public property and the security of individuals on or within a public property.
- Any security-related records of the Lottery Division of the Department of Revenue as well as persons or businesses with which the division has engaged into contractual arrangements. Information about prize winners or payments to lottery contractors may not be withheld.
- Information maintained by public utilities, including payment information for individually identifiable private citizen accounts, credit information, and customer lists.
- Correspondence, memos, and records of telephone conversations relating to a member of the legislature's discharge of responsibilities
- Records revealing the location, character, or ownership of any known archaeological, historical, or paleontological site in Nebraska when required to safeguard such a site from a reasonable risk of theft, damage, or trespass.
- Records held by public agencies that preserve archaeological, historical, or paleontological collections that would expose the names and addresses of donors of such artifacts unless the donor consents to the disclosure
- Publicly sponsored library records that show the identity of patrons who use the library's services
- Job application records such as employment applications, reference letters, school transcripts, and resumes submitted by individuals other than the finalists or a priority candidate for a position at any public body.
- Records collected by the Public Employees Retirement Board in accordance with Section 84-1512 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes.
- Personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit card or debit card numbers and expiry dates, and bank account numbers submitted by citizens to state and municipal governments.
- Information shared between a jurisdictional utility and a city in accordance with Nebraska Revised Statutes Sections 66-1801 through 66-1868.
- Draft data collected from the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems by the legislature's Retirement Committee and the Governor in accordance with Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 84-1503 (4).
- All prescription drug information filed in accordance with Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 71-2454, all data in its monitoring system, and any report based on data in the prescription drug monitoring system.
Under Section 84-712.08 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes, provisions of the Nebraska public record statutes may be suspended when a federal agency or other federal sources of funds, services, or essential information determines that application of such provisions would result in the denial of federal funds, services, or essential information that would otherwise be available to the state agency.
How Do I File a Nebraska Freedom of Information Act Request?
To file a public record request, you must first determine the exact record or information you want to inspect or copy. Subsequently, you should determine the agency maintaining the record and the officer or office in the agency that is designated as the custodian of the record.
Since the NPRS does not prohibit oral requests, you may initiate your request by making an informal inquiry to the record custodian. The custodian of a public record is the public officer who, by virtue of the office occupied, is the legal keeper for all office papers, books, and records, including that specific record. Typically, you will be able to find the telephone number or email address of the record custodian on the agency's website. If the contact information of the record custodian is not available on an agency's website, you may be able to find either a fillable online NPRS form or a downloadable application form to be mailed to the applicable address.
If the record custodian for an agency is not known, you may direct your inquiry to the head of the public body or the director of the agency. Note that if you desire to inspect a public record, inspection is only permitted during ordinary business hours. Per Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 84-712(2), if requesters copy documents using their own photocopying equipment, the copies must be created on the custodians' premises or at mutually acceptable locations between the custodians and the individuals requesting the copies.
You may also choose to complete your public record request in writing. A written request helps clarify the exact nature of the record you want and usually results in a more efficient and precise response from the record custodian. When you make formal requests for public records in writing, it is recommended that you include detailed information about the public record and your personal contact details.
The following are examples of filing public record requests in Montana:
The Montana State Patrol: To file a public record request with the Nebraska State Patrol, complete the agency's online public record request form or mail written requests to:
Nebraska State Patrol
Legal Division - Public Records Request
P.O. Box 94907
Lincoln, NE 68509
The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services: To file a public record request with the NDCS, submit a formal written request to DCS.PublicRecords@nebraska.gov or by mail to:
Public Disclosure Unit
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services
P.O. Box 94661
Lincoln, NE 68509
According to the NDCS request policy, a written request must include:
- The requester's contact information
- A statement specifying that you intend to inspect or copy records under Nebraska Public Records Statutes.
- A description of the documents you want to obtain. The NDCS advises that requesters describe the record required in precise details and if applicable, specify a date range.
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Nebraska?
According to Nebraska Revised Statute Section 84-712.01, the custodian may charge for copies, including the custodian's time involved in actually duplicating the documents, as long as the amount does not exceed the actual added cost of making copies available. No copying fee will be charged if people create their own copies using their own equipment. The fee charged by a record custodian will also be influenced by the kind of record sought and the format in which the information is held.
According to Section 84-712(3) of the Nebraska Public Records Statutes, the actual added cost may not include any labor costs pertaining to the first four cumulative hours of searching, identifying, physically redacting, or copying. However, a special service charge indicative of the calculated labor cost may be added to the fee for the time taken in excess of four cumulative hours.
Under 84-712(3)(f) of the state statutes, if the custodian of a record estimates that the documents sought under the NPRS would cost more than $50, the custodian may ask the requester to provide a deposit before fulfilling the copy request.
For instance, the cost of public records charged by the Nebraska State Patrol is billed at $38 per hour for computer technician time billed to the half-hour and $25 per hour for clerk time billed to the half-hour. The copy fee is $0.25 per page.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Nebraska?
Section 84-712(4) of the Nebraska Revised Statutes requires an agency to respond to a written request as soon as practicable and without delay, but not more than four business days following actual receipt of the request. If the record custodian has legal grounds to deny access to a public record, the custodian must issue the requester with a written denial together with the information required under Section 84-712.04 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes. The custodian may issue the requester with a written explanation of the delay if the entire records request cannot be fulfilled within four business days of receipt owing to significant difficulties or the request's scope.
As long as the record custodian provides a written explanation explaining the cause of the delay in responding to the request within four business days of actual receipt, the delay may not be construed as a denial for litigation reasons.
According to Nebraska Revised Statute 84-712.03, if an agency does not respond to a written request for public records within the stipulated period, the requester may:
- File a mandamus action in the district court
- File a petition with the Nebraska attorney general to review the decision. If the attorney general orders the custodian to make the record public and the agency fails to comply with the directive, the requester denied may sue in court or demand in writing that the attorney general sues the agency within 15 days.