Share This Article
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Task Force voted unanimously Monday to reject Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ attempted “reforms” of the state’s sunshine laws.
The task force, which was created by Act 932 of the Arkansas General Assembly in 2017, was formed to advise lawmakers on proposals that would affect the state’s Freedom of Information Act law that was signed by Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller in 1967.
The task force met hours after Sanders called for a special session to retroactively change Arkansas’s FOIA laws.
Task force members voted to reject both Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 103, which were drafted earlier last week during the leadup to Sanders’s call for a special session. Both bills would limit public access to records about the governor’s security but also revoke the government’s responsibility to provide the public with a broad range of documents relating to policymaking and government bodies’ interactions with lawyers.
Jimmie Cavin, a FOIA defender who testified during the task force’s meeting, said the changes would leave Arkansas’s government bodies “ripe for fraud and corruption.”
Task Force member and Little Rock law professor Robert Steinbuch said he was fine with measures to truly advance security but said Sanders’s proposal was “cobbled together, a wish list for bureaucrats, and a bad idea for the people of Arkansas.”
“It shouldn’t be brought during a special session with what now seems, you know, an undemocratic process to run [the bills] through whatever committee where they can get a majority,” said Steinbuch.
Monday’s opening to the special session saw each bill’s sponsors, including Mountain Home Senator Scott Flippo, missing in action, with only the Senate advancing portions of the proposed measures on the special agenda. The House advanced nothing, with members being sent out for recess for most of the day.
Neither body of the legislature was able to advance either FOIA bill through committee. Associated Press reporter Andrew DeMillo reported that Senators were working to make “minor adjustments” to the bill before putting it before the State Agencies Committee.
Those “minor adjustments” include expanding the FOIA exemptions for cabinet secretaries, taking away even more transparency and access from the public.
Opposition to the FOIA changes has grown across both sides of the political aisle, including both Pulaski and Saline County Republican Committees, and even Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization.
“’Privacy is for citizens, and transparency is for government.’ Americans for Prosperity is deeply concerned about the proposed reforms to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These changes risk reducing government transparency by introducing broad exemptions and limiting public access to crucial information. Transparent government is a cornerstone of democracy,” AFP stated on X (formerly Twitter).
Saline County Republicans announced their opposition to the bills stating on their Facebook page:
“SB7 and HB1003 (the same bills) are sponsored by Saline county legislators: Senator Kim Hammer, Senator Matt McKee, Representative Mary Bentley, and Representative Keith Brooks,” the Saline County Republican Facebook page said. “Our party platform states, ‘We firmly support transparency and openness at every level of government. Those elected, appointed, and employed in government work for the taxpayers and must provide public information when requested, in line with Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act.’ Why should we settle for less transparency in the reddest state in the nation?”