In the post-9/11 environment, state laws dealing with freedom of information and public access to government information have become an issue of concern to many people. The Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project is an ambitious undertaking with the goals of compiling a comprehensive list of public access laws in all fifty states and utilizing a ratings system to determine the availability of public records in each state. The project uses legal research to examine statutory, case and constitutional law in each state and then calculates a rating from "completely open" to "completely closed" based on open meeting and open record laws. Also included is a most recent statement of law rating to indicate recent developments and trends in each state.
There are two basic entry points for navigating the site. In the "Resources" section the site reviews the primary law of each state, compiles information about the law (books, journal articles, guidebooks, etc.), lists relevant organizations in each state related to open access and/or freedom of information and links to any independent audits of the laws of the state.
The "Search" section offers four ways to query the searchable database being compiled. These include the options of seeing ratings for access law categories in a single state; examining summaries or "capsules" of individual provisions of access laws for each state; comparing ratings and capsules of individual provisions of access laws of two states; or seeing comparative ratings for one access law category across all 50 states. "Tips" is an important section of the site, especially for users less familiar with the law and legal terminology. It includes a synonyms list, an FAQ, a glossary of terms used, and a list of available topics. Most importantly, it supplies important information about the advisory board and an extensive description of the methodology used in producing the ratings, a key element of the project.
The difficulties associated with a project like this include the sheer volume of data, the time-consuming review process the board undertakes and the constantly changing status of the law. It is still a work in progress, and currently has incomplete information in a number of areas. There are also ongoing problems that limit the functionality of Netscape browsers in some of the pages. The nature of the information on the site will require continuous updating. The developers acknowledge that keeping up with legal developments in all 50 states is a "tall order" but they are committed to the expansion and maintenance of the site in the future.
Some knowledge of the law or legal issues would be helpful in using the site, but the unique nature of the project makes it useful to anyone researching public record laws and it is recommended for all college or university levels.
University of Florida