In an effort to discuss methods citizens can use to learn more about government proceedings, the UNM School of Public Administration hosted a panel of experienced public information officers Thursday to discuss the rights protected under the Sunshine Law.
The primary question posed was: What can the layman do to find government information in a time where it seems everything is hidden and secretive?
The answer: Any U.S. citizen can access a plethora of information by filing a Public Records Request under the Inspection of Public Records Act.
The Inspection of Public Records Act makes it possible, under state information access laws, to make records of publics meetings, deliberations, votes and other official actions available for public observation, participation or inspection.
“Records laws are one of the best tools that journalists have,” said panelist and local Public Information Officer Tim Korte.
These tools are important for a free press and are used to verify facts, obtain information and research government policies.
Information requests do more than just allow the public direct access to government proceedings; they also encourage professionalism among government officials.
“There are a ton of requests coming in all the time and it holds the government accountable,” Korte said, adding that any recorded or documented communication on a public or government server can be requested under IPRA. That includes all emails sent to or from a UNM email address.
Chris Ramirez of KOB News 4 said that IPRA is so convenient “it’s almost like using Google.”
Though IPRA is considered by some to be a basic research tool, there are certain techniques that will yield better results.
Thursday’s panelists agreed that the more specific the information request is, the better the results and the more likely the request is to be processed.
A Public Records Request can be filed through the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.
Celia Raney is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.