Laws about the public’s right to know
(Updated August 2015)
Vermont is home to the Open Meeting Law (1 V.S.A. §§ 310-314), which applies to gatherings of public officials, and the Public Records Law (1 V.S.A. §§ 315-320), which applies to public documents.
Both laws are meant to protect the public’s right to know about governmental affairs. The benefits of the laws are extended to working journalists and public citizens alike.
The full texts of both laws are available on the Legislature’s website under Title 1, Chapter 5 of the Vermont Statutes. The Open Meeting law is under Subchapter 2, and the Public Records law is under Subchapter 3.
Working journalists and public citizens are also afforded rights under the federal Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), which provides access to federal information.
Find more information about the laws below.
Open Meeting Law
Find the full text on this page under Subchapter 2.
- If a quorum of public officials is gathered together making decisions about public affairs, that generally constitutes a public meeting.
- Public meetings must be warned in advance.
- Public meetings must be open to the public. Certain topics, including but not limited to personnel and contract discussions, may be held in executive session (closed to the public). The public body make a motion to enter into executive session during the public portion of the meeting and must state the reason for entering into executive session.
- Minutes must be recorded.
- The Legislature significantly altered the law in 2014, requiring municipalities with websites to post meeting minutes online within five business days.
For more information:
- The Vermont Secretary of State’s guide to open meetings.
- The Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which supports Vermont municipalities, has an explanatory page dedicated to the law, including an FAQ, in-depth booklet and more.
- The Vermont School Boards Association has an easy-to-digest graph on public meeting requirements.
- The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont has a Journalist’s Guide to Open Meetings in PDF format.
Public Records Law
Find the full text on this page under Subchapter 3.
- Although there’s a long list exemptions, public records and documents generally include documents produced or acquired in the course of agency business.
- Public records can be electronic (i.e. emails) or hard copy documents.
- The VLCT has a page listing 24 exemptions to the law. Among them are records that are designated confidential by law and records that would cause harm to a person if released.
- Members of the public have the right to inspect and copy records that are not exempt. Public agencies have the right to charge for the costs of producing the records.
Written requests for public records:
Although not in every case, public officials sometimes require requests for public records to be submitted in writing. Agencies are required to respond to the initial request within three business days.
Here are some templates for public records requests that you can mold to fit your request.
- The ACLU of Vermont has a PDF template from 2014 available here.
- The National Freedom of Information Coalition has a text template available here. It provides a good foundation for a new document, but is less detailed than the ACLU’s version.
- The New England First Amendment Coalition has partnered with the website Muckrock.com to help citizens file public records requests using this form.
For more information:
- The Vermont Secretary of State’s written guide to the public records law.
- The Secretary of State also put together a lengthy slideshow presentation about public records.
- The Vermont ACLU has a Journalist’s Guide to Public Records in PDF format.
Federal Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)
Full text here.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition, an education and outreach resource based at the Missouri School of Journalism, has sample letters for FOIA requests, appeals and more.