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Nuts and bolts: Which records are public in Mississippi

Want to know if someone's been arrested? If they're getting married or have filed for divorce? How about how much money your town plans to spend this year on those pesky potholes?

Under state law, it shouldn't be that hard to find out.

According to the Mississippi Public Records Act: "Public records shall be available for inspection by any person." However, there are some exemptions.

An array of documents that detail different facets of life and government in Mississippi are open for anyone to examine.

According to state law, a public body's books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes or recordings - or reproductions of those items - should all be on the table for public viewing.

That covers a wide range of printed and digitized information, including jail and court dockets, city budgets and ordinances, land records and tax rolls.

However, state law also has a lengthy list of documents that are blocked from public access.

While an inmate's arrest report, jail booking record, sentence and information about incarceration are supposed to be public records, some documents pertaining to the day-to-day operations of the sheriff's office or police department that arrested the inmate are not.

The minutes of a public hospital's board meeting are considered public records, but documents providing detailed information about the items on the agenda are not.

Anyone can go to the courthouse and find out who applied for a marriage license or filed for divorce in their county, but a copy of someone else's marriage license from the Mississippi Department of Health is off limits. The same goes for other people's birth certificates and death certificates.

Other types of documents blocked from public access include:

 Records developed by judges, their aides or juries.

 Personnel records, job applications and an employee's letter of recommendation.

 Documents made by attorneys representing a public body that relate to actual or prospective litigation.

 Tax records.

 Appraisal information concerning a government body's sale or purchase of real estate.

 Questions that will appear on a school test and their answers.

 Records from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History that contain some archaeological data.

 Records pertaining to economic development projects that are in the works.

 Licensure applications and future licensing test questions.

 Trade secrets submitted to a public body.

 Medical reports submitted to the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission.

 Some records compiled in coroners' investigations.

Anyone who wants records from a public body can submit a written request, and no public body can take more than 14 days to respond to a written request. Public bodies can charge a fee to make copies of the requested records.

Denials to a records request should be returned in writing and specify why the request was denied. And if a government agency denies a records request, the petitioner can make informal attempts with the agency to revise the request or ask again.

If that doesn't work, and the petitioners have reason to believe they were illegally denied access to public records, they can file suit in chancery court. If they win the suit, the public body could face a fine that may not exceed $100, and be ordered to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees.

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