FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
for Declaratory Ruling


 

     Declaratory Ruling   #90

Deputy Majority Leader Connecticut House of Representatives, Petitioner

    

 

 

 

On April 8, 1998, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to a petition for a declaratory ruling filed by the Deputy Majority Leader, Connecticut House of Representatives.

 

In his petition dated March 26, 1998, the petitioner seeks the Commission's ruling as to whether, and if so to what extent, the Freedom of Information (hereinafter "FOI") Act applies to correspondence from constituents to members of the General Assembly.

 

The Commission has previously addressed this issue in two contested cases, Book v. State Representative John G. Metsopoulos, Docket #FIC 1994‑269, and more recently, Montanaro v. Joseph J. Crisco, Jr., State Senator, Docket #FIC 1997‑205. In the final decisions in those cases, the Commission ruled that under the facts presented, communications between members of the General Assembly and constituents were part of "a political service, unrelated to the constitutional or statutory duties of a member of the legislature or of a state official." Consequently, the Commission held that the correspondence in question were not public records subject to the FOI Act. In light of the petition instituting this declaratory ruling, however, the Commission believes that its decisions in the Book and Montanaro cases require additional clarification and amplification.

 

In answer to the petitioner's specific inquiry, the Commission believes that the FOI Act applies to some categories of constituent correspondence to members of the General Assembly, but does not apply to other categories. The following analysis and guidance more fully explains the Commission's response.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(l), in relevant part, defines "public agency" for purposes of the FOI Act as:

 

 

"any executive, administrative or legislative office of the state or any political subdivision of the state and any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state. . . ."

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(5), in turn, defines "public records" for purposes of the FOI Act as:

 

"any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the, public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape‑recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method." [Emphasis added.]

 

Article Third, Section I of the Connecticut Constitution states in relevant part:

 

"The legislative power of the state shall be vested in two distinct houses or branches; the one to be styled the senate, the other the house of representatives, and both together the general assembly."

 

It is clear that members of the general assembly hold legislative office and are therefore public agencies as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(l). Therefore, any recorded data or information prepared, owned, used, received or retained by them in their capacity as legislators, including correspondence from constituents, "relating to the conduct of the public's business" are public records under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(5) for purposes of the FOI Act. Of course, such records would be subject to the catalogue of mandatory and permissive exemptions to disclosure found throughout federal law and in numerous state statutes.

 

But the critical question remains: what correspondence from constituents "relates to the conduct of the public's business" within the meaning of 1‑18a(5)?

 

The Connecticut Supreme Court has written that the principal function of a legislative body is "to make laws which declare the policy of the state. . . ." Pineman v. Oechslin, 195 Conn. 405, 410 (1985), citing Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand, 303 U.S. 95, 100 (1938). Thus, the Commission believes that any correspondence, prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a legislator, that relates directly or indirectly to enacting legislation or making laws, relates to the public's business and falls within the 1‑18a(5) definition of public records.


 

Members of the General Assembly, however, have traditionally and historically performed functions other than those relating to enacting legislation or law‑making. Perhaps chief among these, individual legislators, as the elected representatives of their respective constituents, are frequently requested by constituents to assist them with, or intervene in, personal matters, particularly as they relate to some arm of government. Although this constituent service is, as a practical matter, one that is expected of legislators, and is recognized as such, it is not part of the constitutional or statutory duties of individual members of the General Assembly. Therefore, the Commission believes that this function does not relate to the "conduct of the public's business" within the meaning of 1‑18a(5). Rather, the Commission believes that correspondence relating to such personal matters, unrelated to enacting legislation or law-making, is of a private nature and does not constitute a public record for purposes of the FOI Act.

 

In response to the petition in these proceedings, the Commission therefore issues the following ruling:

 

1. Any recorded data or information prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a member of the General Assembly, in his or her capacity as a member thereof, including correspondence from or to constituents, directly or indirectly relating to enacting legislation or making laws are public records under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(5) for purposes of the FOI Act.

 

2. Any recorded data or information, prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a member of the General Assembly, whether or not in his or her capacity as a member thereof, including correspondence from or to a constituent concerning a request for the assistance or intervention of the legislator in a matter unrelated directly or indirectly to enacting legislation or making laws, are not public records under Conn. Gen. Stat.
1-18a(5) for purposes of the FOI Act.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                      By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                      Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ____________________________
                                                                                       Frederick E. Hennick, Chairman

Dated: ___________________

 

Ordered:_________________

Dolores E. Tarnowski,
Clerk of the Commission