Thank goodness the legislators across the state let us know they support Arkansas’ vanguard Freedom of Information Act. Routinely, they begin conversations saying, “I support the Freedom of Information Act.” If a “but” follows that opening clause, well, at least we know where they stand about the people’s right to know what their government is doing.
And that’s a good thing. Without those protests, we’d have doubts about their commitment to FOIA.
Last month, those in the General Assembly who support the Freedom of Information Act demonstrated their support by exempting from it the names of those who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.
Also, the Senate joined its unanimous support to the state House’s overwhelming support (81-7) of the Freedom of Information in SB 1216 by designating Internet publication the primary means of making public state agency reports.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, removes publication of public notices from newspapers to a website maintained by the state.
As many as a million people in Arkansas do not have access to the Internet. APA Executive Director Tom Larimer said, “The proposal would remove the elderly, the poor and minority groups, of which we have plenty, especially from access to this vital public information. They just don’t have computers, are not tech savvy, and have no Internet connectivity even if they could afford it.”
HB 1327 would close to the public meetings and records of meetings about security procedures for schools and colleges. By offering boards more opportunities to meet in private, it creates more opportunities for them to veer off-topic and discuss other business. Already, elected officials tell us they can’t avoid accidental discussions of public business even in happenstance meetings. How much harder it will be for them to avoid discussing board business in what is already a protected board meeting.
In Arkansas, we are often in the fortunate position of bragging about our Freedom of Information Act, which has been seen widely as one of the best and strongest in the nation. This year, the General Assembly seems to be playing an especially dangerous game of whack-a-mole in which the people of Arkansas are the moles, and the legislators, despite their protestations of support for “the people’s law,” are doing the whacking.
How can it be that a legislature that said it was dedicated to shrinking government is considering creating a new centralized agency within the secretary of state’s office to manage public notifications?
How can it be that people who campaigned on platforms of transparency and accountability are looking to make opaque so many records?
Sunshine Week 2013 will be a fading memory by the time the General Assembly recesses from regular business on April 19.
We hope the same cannot be said for the once-vaunted Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
— Southwest Times-Record