Two FOI bills would destroy the public’s right to know
Some Arkansas legislators or their lobbyists are working hard to end the public's right to know and to gut the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. The post Two FOI bills would destroy the public’s right to know appeared first on Arkansas Times.
Some Arkansas legislators or their lobbyists are working hard to end the public’s right to know and to gut the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
First there was Rep. Mary Bentley‘s House Bill 1610, which would allow secret gatherings of public boards as long as there’s not more than a third of a board’s members present. The Perryville Republican’s bill would not treat those gatherings as public meetings, but decisions could obviously be made in secret and rubber-stamped at a future public meeting.
As if that bill isn’t bad enough, now state Rep. David Ray, a Maumelle Republican, has dreamed up all sorts of ways to keep all those parents Gov. Sarah Sanders says she wants to “empower” from knowing what’s really going on in our schools, in city council meetings, in quorum court meetings — you name it. I call it an insult to the public’s right to know; Ray calls it House Bill 1726.
Robert Steinbuch, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law, said today that Ray’s proposal is “the worst bill I’ve seen” involving the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in almost 20 years.
“This is no conservative bill, and this is no bill for transparency,” said Steinbuch, author of a legal treatise of the FOI Act.
Sonny Albarado, vice president of the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said Ray’s bill “takes a sledge hammer to try to kill an annoying gnat. Users of the FOIA who make voluminous public records requests that tie up public employees’ time are not a significant enough problem to warrant making taxpayers pay exorbitant fees to access documents their tax dollars have already purchased nor to line the coffers of local governments.”
“HB1726 also would make it significantly harder for citizens to learn about their government’s actions by exempting many documents currently open under the FOIA,” Albarado said in an email.
“If this Legislature wanted to repeal the FOIA, they’ve made a great start with HB1726 and Rep. Bentley’s HB1610,” he added.
Sadly but not surprisingly, Alexa Henning, the governor’s spokeswoman, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Sanders supports Ray’s proposal, which would greatly limit what information taxpayers can access from the public officials.
Henning erroneously called Arkansas’ FOIA laws “some of the most outdated in the country.” Actually, the state’s FOI Act is one of the few things in which Arkansas ranks better than many other states.
Ray’s bill would exempt records from being disclosed if they included opinions being expressed or policies or actions formulated. Among those affected would be drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda, correspondence and other records. This is a huge deal; it’s how the public learns about good and bad things school boards and others are considering before they get on a formal agenda. By then, it’s sometimes too late to stop poor ideas.
Ray’s bill also would allow for charging private citizens for FOI requests even though you and I already pay more taxes than some of the wealthiest Americans. And we pay for these public employees’ salaries, meeting facilities and travel expenses.
This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It has opposition from Republicans and Democrats who care about transparency and who aren’t getting lobbied by groups such as the Arkansas Municipal League, the Arkansas Association of Counties and the Arkansas School Boards Association.
So, whether you’re with Moms for Liberty or Moms Demand Action, trust me: This FOI proposal will only keep you further out of the loop. It won’t empower anyone but corrupt politicians and those rich enough to buy favors.
Folks, I cannot tell you how many stories of public corruption were exposed thanks to the FOI Act.
if it had not been for written communications I obtained under that law, Lu Hardin would not have had to resign as president of the University of Central Arkansas when he did; and his successor, Allen Meadors, would have gotten a cushy deal that he had kept secret even from some board members about costly improvements to the UCA house where he lived.
If you think your opinion doesn’t count now, it sure won’t count if these bills are approved.
The post Two FOI bills would destroy the public’s right to know appeared first on Arkansas Times.
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