VSARA > Learn > Public Records Act > Background
The Vermont Public Records Act or PRA (1 V.S.A. §§ 315-320) has its origin in Act 231 of 1976 (H.276), the State of Vermont first comprehensive public records law. The most significant changes to the PRA were enacted as part of Act 159 of 1996 although the original bill, H.780, began as much more robust public records bill than what was eventually passed.
H.780 as introduced, nonetheless, sheds light on the interests and mindset of the House Government Operations Committee following hearings in both the summer and fall of 1995. The bill initially included requirements for public agencies to: sunset exemptions after 50 years unless the State Archivist determined a longer period of time was needed to satisfy the purpose of the specific exemption; make available all nonexempt records and information for copying in a standard electronic or paper format; bear the cost of redacting exempt information in order to permit the inspection or copying of a record unless the request was for more than 100 pages; and separate exempt information from nonexempt information in all future upgrades to “electronic application systems.” Under H.780, members of the public could also seek an advisory opinion from the Secretary of State if aggrieved by an agency head’s denial of a request to inspect or copy a public record.
Act 59 of 2011 (H.73) resulted in a substantive change to penalties. Prior to 2011, if a court overturned an agency’s decision to deny access, the court had the option of ordering the agency to pay attorney fees and other litigation costs. Act 59 mandated that courts award attorney fees if a complainant substantially prevailed against an agency. Like H.780 of 1996, H.73 also began as a more robust bill than what was eventually passed. H.73, for example, originally called for the training of all agency employees responsible for responding to public records requests as well as the creation of a Government Transparency Office.
Since its initial passage, the PRA has focused on six core elements, although one element – management – was originally kept separate, in Title 22, despite routinely being amended within some of the same legislative acts pertaining to public records. It was not until the passage of Act 96 of 2008 that management was added to the PRA and it was through Act 100 of 2018 that cross-references between the PRA and the state’s records management laws were more clearly drawn.
Vermont State Archives & Records Administration
Tanya Marshall, State Archivist & Director
1078 Route 2, Middlesex
Montpelier, VT 05633-7701
Phone & Hours
Main Line: 802-828-3700
Office Hours: 7:45 AM to 4:30 PM, M-F
Reference Room: 9 AM to 4 PM, M-F