Guidelines to Access Public Records

California citizens have a right to access public information maintained by state and local government agencies, including the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC or Commission). That right is provided for in the Public Records Act (PRA) and the California Constitution, and it includes the right to inspect and copy records. (PRA at Govt. Code Sections 6250-6276.48; CA Const. at Article 1.)

Form of Request. Written requests are encouraged because this will streamline the process of identification and retrieval. If a request is made orally, we will confirm it in writing to ensure accuracy. If a request is denied in whole or in part, we will provide a written explanation. Our contact information is shown below (an email request has the shortest response time):

Contact Information:

PRA Coordinator

Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission

1325 J Street, Suite 1700

Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 445-8696

mhsoac@mhsoac.ca.gov

What is a Record? Public records include any writing owned, used or maintained by the government in the conduct of its official business. Writings include information recorded or stored on paper, computers, email, or audio or visual tapes. Some public records maintained by the Commission may already be available as part of our regular services, or in an historical/archival collection. If so, we will direct you on the best method of access. Appropriate preservation steps may be needed for access to historical/archival records, and these records may also be protected from reproduction by copyright.

Identification of Requesters. You do not need to provide identification in order to inspect public records, nor do you need to provide a reason. However, if records are to be picked up or mailed then pertinent information must be provided.

Identification of Records. Please provide specific information about the records you seek in order to help us find them promptly. When a record cannot be identified by name, you should attempt to be as detailed as possible in describing its content. You should also provide its approximate date; and, if known, where it is maintained within the Commission. When a request is not sufficiently specific, our staff will help you identify the necessary information.

Inspection. Public records maintained by the Commission are available for inspection during our regular business hours as posted on our website, and the public is not required to give advance notice. If the request requires retrieval, review, or redaction of records, then a mutually agreeable time will be arranged for their inspection. Commission staff may be present during an onsite inspection in order to prevent records from being lost, damaged, or destroyed in the process.

Timeframe. We will respond to a request for public records within 10 days of receipt, and we can usually produce the records within that same timeframe. When a record cannot be produced readily, we will make that determination and inform you within the same 10-day period. If your request is so complex that we need additional time (up to another 14 days), we will inform you in writing with an estimate of the disclosure date. Any response that denies disclosure of a public record, in whole or in part, will explain the reasons why.

Cost. The Commission may charge the direct cost of duplication; for photocopying, it is 10 cents per page. However, we do not charge if the total is less than twenty dollars ($20). This cost does not include staff time in researching, retrieving, redacting or mailing. If we must compile electronic data, extract information from an electronic record, or undertake computer programming to satisfy a request, then we may charge the full cost of staff time and of duplication (beyond photocopying). Please be aware that we are not required to create new data or prepare records that do not already exist.

Exemptions. The Commission will provide access to all public records upon request unless the law provides a specific exemption. For example, the PRA exempts certain personnel records; medical records; investigative records; preliminary drafts; private non-public information; and confidential legal advice or work product for litigation. Other exemptions appear in the Evidence Code and the Information Privacy Act. Also, if any record maintained by the Commission only requires partial exemption, we will redact that portion and disclose the remainder.

Specific Exemptions. The Commission maintains medical records as needed to administer grant programs to fund the local delivery of mental health services. Medical records are exempt under the PRA if their disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. As such, the Commission will not disclose records that fall within the definition of Personal Health Information under the federal Health Information Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA); Personal Health Information under the state Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA); and Personally Identifiable Information under the state Information Practices Act (IPA).

Balancing Test. Under the PRA, public records may also be exempt if the public’s interest in disclosure outweighs the public’s interest in nondisclosure. This “balancing test” is rarely required and is only applied on a case-by-case basis.