Last Updated: March 2012
The ACLU of Nevada, a nonpartisan organization, is concerned about open government across the board and at all levels. If you have tried to obtain a government document that you believe is or should be available to the public, but have been denied access or believe that Nevada’s Public Records law has not been followed, the ACLU of Nevada wants to hear from you, using our online intake form.
A Primer on Nevada’s Public Records Law
- Nevada’s Public Records Law was enacted to ensure that government documents are available to the public. The Legislature’s intent is clear. As NRS 239.001 says, the public records law is “to foster democratic principles.” Nevada’s Public Records law “must be construed liberally” and “any exemption, exception or balancing of interests which limits or restricts access…must be construed narrowly.”
- Nevada’s Public Records Law applies to “all public books and public records of a government entity, the contents of which are not otherwise declared by law to be confidential.” The records “must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied.” Also, “A person may request a copy of a public record in any medium in which the public record is readily available.”
- Because public records are just that, public records available to anyone, a person requesting a public record may not be asked to provide any identifying information, such as his/her name, address, whether he/she is a citizen or voter or taxpayer, why he/she wants to see the public record, or what, if anything, the public records will be used for. Journalists, scholars, or other public officials do not have any greater access to public records than any other person.
- Exceptions to Nevada’s Public Records law exist. For example, local government entities are not required to disclose identifying information of a person using a recreational facility or engaging in a recreational, instructional or other event sponsored by a local government entity, unless the person seeking such a record has a valid court order, subpoena, or is a journalist.
Government bodies have five business days to respond to a public records request. The government body must either:
- Allow a person who has requested to copy/inspect a public record to do so;
- Inform the person that it does not possess the record and identify which other government body has it;
- Inform the person that it cannot comply with the five-day requirement and when state a time when it will be able to do so; or
- Inform the person that it is denying access to the record and state which Nevada statute or other legal authority it believes allows it to deny access.
- If a government body denies access to a public record that is less than 30 years old, the person who requested a public record may apply to the district court in which the record is located to request that the court issue an order allowing access to the public record. The court order may or may not be granted. If a government body denies access to a public record that is at least 30 years old, is not about a natural person, or is about a natural person who has died, the record is presumed not to be confidential and should be able to be accessed by district court order.
- When a government body asserts that a public record is confidential, the government body has the burden of proof to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that the record is confidential.
- Public employees are not liable for denying access to a public record if they did so in good faith.
- Privatization contracts entered into by government bodies are public records.
Public bodies may charge a fee for copying public records.
- However, “Such a fee must not exceed the actual cost to the governmental entity to provide the copy of the public record unless a specific statute or regulation sets a fee that the government entity must charge for the copy. A governmental entity shall not charge a fee for providing a copy of a public record if a specific statute or regulation requires the governmental entity to provide the copy without charge.”
- Public bodies must post their public records fees, and may waive them if they have a written policy regarding waiver of fees.
- If a person wants a transcript of an administrative proceeding, the fee will be the “actual cost of the medium” plus “a fee for each page” equal to that charged by the court reporter.
- A public body might determine that a request for a copy of a public record would require “extraordinary use of its personnel or technological resources”; in such a case, the public body may “charge a fee for such extraordinary use,” but such charge “must be reasonable” (based on costs the public body “actually incurs”) and the person whose request would cause “extraordinary use” must be notified in advance of such fees/costs.
- Nevada Revised Statutes also provide, in great detail, for “disposal of obsolete records,” “restoration of lost or destroyed records,” and penalties for anyone who steals, alters, defaces, removes, conceals, or falsifies existing records, or files, registers, or records a false new record.
This does not constitute legal advice. For advice about the Public Records Law, please contact an attorney. If you believe that the Public Records Law has been violated and wish to pursue a private action or other possible avenues, you may file a complaint with the ACLU of Nevada by completing our online complaint form. We are interested in hearing your story, but cannot guarantee that we will be able to assist you.