The gutting of freedom of information law | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The gutting of freedom of information law

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 11:54 AM

click to enlarge ADRIAN TAWFIK
  • Adrian Tawfik

A House committee this morning approved legislation to exempt from public disclosure all records or other information "related to the operations, emergency procedure, and security personnel of the State Capitol Police."

Legislators insisted this was to protect people in the Capitol from attack. They dismissed an argument from the Arkansas Press Association that the bill was overbroad, far behind the likes to escape routes. No one has offered an example of use of information for a nefarious purpose.

Shortly after, the committee took up legislation to exempt from disclosure attorney-client communications for all public agencies. Put a lawyer's stamp on any document and it will no longer be available to the public.  Put a lawyer in a meeting with a government body and they can claim it's necessary to meet in private. It will encourage corruption in government, argued Tom Larimer, director of the Arkansas Press Association. This debate wasn't completed this morning, but there's clear sentiment to favor protection of communications in active lawsuits.

Much more of this is on the way. There's legislation to close all records generated by the State Police in gubernatorial security, not just procedures at the Mansion. There's a bill to deter "burdensome" FOI requests.

There's more.

Questioning today demonstrates the low opinion with which the dominant powers in the legislature view  the media. Rep. Kim Hendren was a notable exception. He said the Capitol needs more sunshine, not less.

The press is diminished in many ways. It's struggling financially. There are fewer print media outlets with fewer reporters. The industry no longer can afford a contract lobbyist. Time was, the press had some clout at the Capitol. No more.

Legislators too easily forget that the FOI isn't solely a press law. It's the people's law. Anyone can use it. They can use. They will be able to use it less when this session is done.

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