Iowa’s Open Records Law – Who, What, When, and Why?


Iowa’s Open Records laws permit Iowans and Iowa businesses to obtain numerous types of records and communications from government bodies and officials (e.g. state departments, cities, and schools). Frequently, Iowans and Iowa businesses use these laws to obtain general information about government activities as well as information about how competitors may be communicating with the government. Access to such records is governed by Iowa Code Chapter 22.

Who may request a public record?

Iowa Code Chapter 22 explains how “[e]very person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record…” Iowa Code 22.2 (emphasis added).  Put another way, Iowans and Iowa businesses have the right to access qualifying public records.

What constitutes a public record?

Iowa law defines a public record broadly and includes, among other things, “all records, documents, tape, or other information, stored or preserved in any medium, of or belonging to this state or any county, city, township, school corporation, political subdivision.” Iowa Code 22.1(3). In other words, letters, emails, text messages, and other correspondence are all examples of public records. In describing the breadth of Iowa’s Open Record laws, the Iowa Supreme Court acknowledges “[t]he right of persons to view public records is to be interpreted liberally to provide broad public access to public records.” Gannon v. Bd. of Regents, 692 N.W.2d 31, 38 (Iowa 2005). It should be noted that at the time of this publication, Iowa law recognizes nearly seventy different categories of “confidential records.”  See Iowa Code 22.7.

When must public records be provided?

Generally, upon making a proper request, records should be provided by the government body to the requesting party in a prompt manner. Notably, however, Iowa law permits the records custodian a “good-faith, reasonable delay” to determine whether the government record in question is a public record, or confidential record. See Iowa Code 22.8(4).

Why does Iowa’s open records law exist?

“The purpose of the statute is to open the doors of government to public scrutiny [and] to prevent government from secreting its decision-making activities from the public, on whose behalf it is its duty to act… Accordingly, there is a presumption of openness and disclosure under this chapter.” Horsfield Materials, Inc. v. City of Dyersville, 834 N.W.2d 444, 460 (Iowa 2013), reh’g denied (Aug. 6, 2013).

If you are considering making an open records request, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney who practices in this area of law.

About Matthew McKinney

Attorney focused on civil and commercial litigation.
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