Open Records. Rhode Island enacted its open records statute, the Access to Public Records Act ("APRA"), R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 38-2-1 et seq., in 1979, making it the forty-ninth state to pass such legislation. The APRA was substantially amended in 1991 and 1998.
Prior to the passage of the APRA, the common law gave a right of inspection of public records to only those persons who “ha[d] an interest therein which was such as would enable them to maintain or defend an action for which the document or record sought could furnish evidence or necessary information.” Daluz v. Hawksley, 116 R.I. 49, 351 A.2d 820 (1976).
The preamble of the APRA supplies a clear statement of its legislative intent. It reads:
The public's right to access to public records and the individual's right to dignity and privacy are both recognized to be principles of the utmost importance in a free society. The purpose of this chapter is to facilitate public access to public records. It is also the intent of this chapter to protect from disclosure information about particular individuals maintained in the files of public bodies when disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-1 (1998).
In Providence Journal Co. v. Sundlun, 616 A.2d 1131 (R.I. 1992), the court held that the underlying policy of the Act favors the free flow and disclosure of information to the public. However, the legislature does not intend to empower the press and the public with carte blanch to demand all records held by public agencies.
Open Meetings. The Rhode Island Open Meetings Law ("OML"), R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 42-46-1 et seq., was enacted in 1976. The public policy of the OML is set forth in its preamble. It provides:
It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-1.