Task force unanimously opposes bills that would overhaul Arkansas' open records law

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Task Force voted unanimously Monday oppose Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ plan to overhaul the state’s sunshine law.

Sanders has called the state Legislature into a three-day special session, beginning today, to consider among other things changes to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to exempt broad new categories of government records from public view. Lawmakers also will consider bills to cut taxes and ban covid-19 vaccine mandates for government workers.

Two identical bills Arkansas lawmakers will consider, House Bill 1003 and Senate Bill 7, propose expanding exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, which governs public records and open meetings, to exempt documents related to the governor’s security and the policy making process, from disclosure.

Specifically, the bills include a deliberative process exemption that would exempt government documents such as memoranda, letters, commutations, advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations "that comprise part of the process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated."

The Freedom of Information Task Force, created through legislation in 2017, met via Zoom Monday morning to listen to public comment and to vote on a recommendation.

“What this is going to do is take away the rights citizens have had since 1967 to see that deliberative process,” Jimmie Cavin, a self-described Freedom of Information advocate, told the task force.

The task force also condemned the timing of the bills, arguing a major change to the state’s sunshine law was being pushed through during a special session.

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