Earlier this month, we outlined why you should oppose House Bill 1622 if you are a supporter of open government in Arkansas.
House Bill 1622, by State Rep. Bob Johnson, would amend the state Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) to give government entities the option of choosing their own deadline for responding to some FOIA requests. Currently, government officials responding to a request generally have three days to respond to a FOIA request. Under Johnson’s legislation, the government would be allowed to set its own deadline when it received requests that it judged to be especially hard to comply with.
Johnson amended his legislation Wednesday morning to put a 15-day cap on his original proposal — namely, to permit delays for FOIA requests that the government decides are too “unduly burdensome.”
We are not trying to harm the three-day rule in any way.
Johnson may not be “trying” to harm the three-day, but that’s what his bill would do in the real world.
Under this legislation, bureaucrats and elected officials would be able to ignore the current three-day response limit if they decide a FOIA request is “unduly burdensome.” Who would get to decide whether a request is too burdensome to respond to within three days? The same bureaucrats and elected officials on the receiving end of the request would be deciding.
If the requestor disagreed with their decision, they’d be forced to hire an attorney to sue the government.
Fortunately, members of the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee rejected this legislation resoundingly. They rejected it so soundly that there wasn’t one person on the committee willing to make a motion to pass it out of committee. The bill failed without it even being voted on.
Those committee members should be commended for standing up against this attack on the FOIA and transparency in government. Arkansans are well-served with a three-day response limit to FOIA requests.
This quick required turnaround requires government officials to be responsive to the requests of private citizens — instead of those requests just being more items on a to-do list that they’ll get around to eventually.
That’s what legislators protected today by killing this terrible piece of legislation.
P.S. Unfortunately, this same committee actually passed a separate bill late this afternoon that creates a new FOIA exemption for government attorney-client communications that are related to litigation. So these legislators passed one out of two anti-transparency bills on the agenda today. Batting .500 is great in baseball, but it’s not an acceptable average for lawmakers voting on legislation that weakens the public’s right to know what their government is doing.