Transparency advocates won a big victory today when the state Senate passed Rep. Richard Womack’s HB 1727.
The bill had already passed the House; it is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
HB 1727 would allow citizens to request most criminal records of any Arkansas citizen for a fee of no more than $20.
Criminal record information is already public. But without this law, the average citizen would still have to travel to courthouses in all 75 Arkansas counties to access this information. More often than not, that’s just too time-consuming for the average Arkansan — who, after all, has plenty of other demands on his or her time.
As the Advance Arkansas Institute stated in its “2015 Action Plan For Arkansas:”
Transparency in the criminal histories of government officials and candidates for office is absolutely in the public interest; it is difficult to imagine what kind of candidate information that reasonable people would see as more relevant. Just as private sector employers use criminal background checks when hiring new employees, before going to the polls citizens should be allowed to take criminal history information into account when making decisions about electing their political leaders.
Sometimes advocates of limited and open government in Arkansas grow accustomed to bad surprises from the Legislature. The fact that Womack’s bill will soon be law is a good surprise, because it goes further than just requiring criminal records disclosure from candidates, legislators, and constitutional officers. This bill would require those disclosures be made available for all Arkansans. If you want to know whether your babysitter, your business partner, or your Little League coach has a criminal record, this bill makes that information available for a small fee.
To my mind, this is the biggest victory for transparency in government in quite some time.