Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act is considered to be one of the best in the nation, but the General Assembly, which created the law in 1975, avoids its full consequences by deleting emails after three weeks.

According to the Office of Legislative Management’s 2009 policy on document retention, emails are only archived for 21 days.

That is, once an individual user deletes an email, a copy is retained for only three weeks. Subsequent FOIA requests will turn up no documents.

The legislature’s policy states that “all files and programs associated with the legislative process” – a category distinct from email – should be kept for one year.

Without understanding this policy, the results of FOIA requests made to the legislature can appear absurd. For example:

– No emails exist for Sen. Andrew McDonald between Election Day 2010 and Gov. Dannel Malloy’s inauguration, Jan. 5, 2011. McDonald went on to serve as Malloy’s general counsel and is now a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

– Former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, sent only three emails and received none between June 11 and June 15 last year.

– There was no email correspondence related to a legislative provision last year that would have made “all records” related to state economic development secret. A FOIA request turned up only four documents related to the provision, all of them publicly available on the legislature’s website.

By contrast, the executive branch has to keep documents, including emails, much longer. These regulations are established by the Public Records Administrator at the State Library.

The executive branch has to keep emails containing “routine correspondence” for two years, while records of financial transactions need to be kept longer.

The General Assembly does not give the State Library any authority over its archives.