Freedom of Information in Mississippi
The information on this page is provided courtesy of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, a partner with the Mississippi Press Association in preserving and expanding open meetings and public records laws in the state. For more information on the Open Meetings and Public Records acts, please visit the MCFOI website.
Mississippi Public Records Act
MCA § 25-61-1 et seq.
1. What entities are covered?
Every “public body,” which includes any department, bureau, division or agency of the state or a political subdivision thereof, and any municipal corporation and any other entity created by the Constitution or by law, executive order, ordinance or resolution. Records of appointed and elected official are covered. The State Legislature is not.
2. What documents are covered?
Any documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, used in conducting business of any public body or required to be maintained by any public body.
3. What records are exempt from the Act?
a. records developed by judges or their aides;
b. records developed by juries;
c. personnel records and employment applications;
d. employment examination questions and answers;
e. letters of recommendation for employment by public body;
f. work product of any attorney representing a public body, related to actual or prospective litigation;
g. individual tax records;
h. appraisal information concerning the sale or purchase of real or personal property for public purposes;
i. future academic examination questions and answers;
j. archaeological data maintained by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History;
k. records maintained by public hospitals except the official minutes of the board of trustees and financial reports filed as required by statute;
l. records of the State Bureau of Vital Statistics of the Mississippi Department of Health, which are of no legitimate and tangible interest to the requester;
m. records of the Department of Economic Development containing client information about development projects;
n. records of public bodies primarily engaged in the enforcement of criminal laws. (NOT EXEMPT: Records consisting only of identifying data and notations of arrest, the nature and disposition of criminal charges, sentencing, confinement, release, and parole and probation status.);
o. licensure applications;
p. recommendations in the possession of any state board which is authorized to hold examinations and grant licenses or certificates to practice any profession, respecting application of a professional license;
q. future licensing test questions;
r. commercial and financial information of a proprietary nature required to be submitted to a public body, except for information submitted to a regulatory agency by a public utility that is related to the establishment of or changes in rates regulated by the public body;
s. noncontroverted case medical reports of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission;
t. certain records compiled in coroners’ investigations;
u. names of people who have gotten, or been denied, concealed weapons permits, for 45 days after issuance or denial of such permits; and
v. any records specifically declared by another statute to be confidential or privileged (e.g. 911, gaming data).
Exemptions are permissive. The exemptions are not mandatory, and release is discretionary with public official.
4. Procedure, time, costs and enforcement
Requester should submit a written request for public records, specifically outlining the records that are being requested, and the desired format (e.g., paper or computer disk). If the agency has no written guidelines on complying with the law, the request must be honored in one working day. If the agency does have guidelines, the agency can take up to 14 working days to respond to a request.
If the agency denies all or part of the request, it must explain the denial in writing. Exempt portions of records must be redacted, with non-exempt portions released.
A public body may charge reasonable costs for the actual cost of searching, reviewing, duplicating and, if needed, mailing the records. In no case can the cost be more than “actual cost.” The decision to charge for public records is discretionary.
If a public body refuses to release records, the requester first should make informal attempts to resolve differences. If those attempts fail, suit may be filed in the chancery court of the county where the public body is located. The court can provide injunctive relief or writs of mandamus, as well as impose a civil fine not to exceed $100. A prevailing party can be reimbursed for reasonable costs of bringing suit.
Mississippi Open Meetings Act
MCA § 25-41-1 et seq.
1. What entities are covered?
Any state, county, or local executive or administrative board, commission, authority, council, department, agency, bureau, or any other policy-making entity, or a committee thereof, which is supported wholly or in part by public funds, or expends public funds, as well as any standing, interim or special committee of the State Legislature.
2. What entities are not covered?
a. State judiciary, including all jury deliberations;
b. Public and private hospital staffs;
c. Public and private hospital boards and committees;
d. Law enforcement officials;
e. The military;
f. State probation and parole board;
g. Workers’ Compensation Commission;
h. legislative subcommittees and conference committees;
i. Miss. Farm Mediation Office.
3. What types of meetings are covered?
Any “assemblage of members of a public body at which official acts may be taken upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control jurisdiction, or advisory power,” including
a. an “informal meeting” of a public body and its staff although no votes are taken by the public body’s members;
b. luncheon meetings of a public body where deliberation and discussion takes place concerning matters within the public body’s jurisdiction;
c. work session of a public body;
d. joint meetings of two public bodies; and
e. a local school board of trustees’ visit to a public school.
4. What types of meeting are not covered?
“Chance” meetings or “social gatherings” of members of a public body are not covered. Regular meetings of public officials at the local coffee shop to discuss county or local business are not chance meetings.
5. When can a public body go into “executive session”?
a. personnel matters relating to job performance or the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person holding a specific position;
b. prospective or actual litigation;
c. security personnel, plans or devices;
d. investigations concerning allegations of misconduct or violations of law;
e. extraordinary emergencies posing immediate or irrevocable harm to persons or property;
f. prospective purchase, sale or leasing of lands;
g. preparation of admission tests for recognized professions;
h. location, relocation or expansion of business or industry;
i. line item in a budget which might affect termination of an employee or employees, although all other budget items must be considered in open meeting;
j. discussions between school board and individual students, parents or teachers within the board’s jurisdiction regarding problems with the students, parents or teachers;
k. any body of the Legislature which is meeting on matters within that body’s jurisdiction may go into executive session.
Procedure for executive session: All meetings must begin as open meeting, even if the only matters to be discussed are topics exempted under the law. Three-fifths affirmative vote of all members present is required before a public body can go into executive session. The reason for executive session must be stated in open meeting and recorded in the minutes.
6. What type of notice is required?
Unless time and place for a public body’s meetings are prescribed by statute, the public body must set forth in its minutes the time, place and procedure for all of its meetings. A city must fix by ordinance the place and hour of its board meetings. A board of supervisors must usually give notice five days before a special meeting takes place.
Notice of meetings of State Legislative committees, other than conference committees, shall be announced on the loudspeaker during sessions or posted on the bulletin board. When not in session, the Clerk of the House or the secretary of the Senate shall keep the meeting times and places.
7. What if a public body recesses its meeting, or calls a special meeting?
Specific notice of any recessed meeting, adjourned meeting, interim meeting, or any called special meeting must be posted within one hour after the meeting is called.
8. Are minutes required to be taken, and if so, what must be included?
Minutes must be kept for all open and executive sessions of a public body covered by the law. The minutes must include: 1) what members are present and absent; 2) the date, time, and place of meeting; 3) an accurate recording of any final actions; 4) a record, by individual member, of any votes taken; and 5) any other information that the public body requests be included. Minutes must be recorded within 30 days after recess or adjournment. Recorded minutes must be open to public inspection during regular business hours. If a request for the minutes is made before the minutes have been recorded and/or approved, the body must make available the notes from which the minutes will be prepared.
9. Audiotape, videotape and film
A public body cannot ban a person’s making notes or using a tape recorder at a public meeting as long as the recording process is not interfering with the orderly conduct of the meeting. Since videotaping or filming a public body’s meetings can now be done without interfering with the public body’s proceedings, it would arguably be unreasonable for a public body to prohibit this type of activity.
10. Enforcing rights under the law
First step is to talk to local public official and express concern that the public body is not complying. Back up your request in writing. If informal discussions fail, you have the right to file suit in chancery court and request an injunction or writ of mandamus to require compliance.
Reporters should object verbally when a meeting is about to be closed, in apparent violation of the law.