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Yet Another FOI Assault (Editorial)

2 min read

Why don’t government officials want the public — i.e., the taxpayers, i.e., you — to see what they’re doing?

That’s the question we asked ourselves when we read about the latest effort to gut the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. 

House Bill 1726 by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, would expand the kinds of public records exempt from the FOI Act to include communications between a government official and a government legal counsel, as well as records related to the development of policy.

It would also allow the government to charge the public — i.e., the taxpayers, i.e., you — for the time it takes to retrieve, review, redact and provide the records if that time exceeds eight hours. In other words, taxpayers requesting government records could be asked to pay government workers extra for just doing their jobs.

In addition, the proposal would lengthen the time the government has to respond to FOI requests from three working days to 10.

“This is literally the worst proposal I’ve seen for the Freedom of Information Act in the almost 20 years I have been in Arkansas,” said Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an expert on the state’s FOI Act. 

Ray has a different take, naturally. “My bill aims to preserve strong government transparency while addressing the problems caused by people who weaponize FOIA and use it as a tool of harassment to simply throw sand in the gears of state government,” he said.

Although we’re aware that there have been isolated instances of the public abusing the FOI Act, they don’t come close to justifying this nightmare of a bill. 

Just say no, legislators. Or taxpayers will start to suspect that you don’t want us to know what you’re up to.

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