UPDATE: Senate passes FOI Improvement Act

December 5, 2014 01:30

Updated 12/9/14
After Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) dropped a last-minute hold, the Senate passed the Freedom of Information Improvement Act late Monday, reports The Hill. The House unanimously passed the original bill, but will now have to vote on the amended version before Congress adjourns on Thursday.

The Sunshine in Government Initiative, of which RTDNA is a member, led the charge to get the bill passed in time. If passed by the House, President Obama is expected to sign the bill, which has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. The measure is intended to scale back the practice of government agencies holding back information, and encourage prompt disclosure of public information when requested.

With time running out for the 113th Congress to act, RTDNA again calls on the Senate to pass the bipartisan Freedom of Information Improvement Act. The bill, S. 2520, the FOIA Improvement Act, is sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.). The two “Sunshine Senators” paired together to craft the 2007 amendments to FOIA and this new bill reflects their continued efforts to find bipartisan fixes to make FOIA work better. Leahy issued a statement Friday, calling for passage of the bill.
Specifically, S. 2520 would, among other changes, strengthen the FOIA ombudsman’s office, help curtail agencies’ rampant over-invocation of the “deliberative process” exemption (FOIA’s Exemption 5), encourage proactive disclosure of government information without the need for a FOIA request, and codify the current administration’s policy bolstering the presumption of disclosure at the heart of FOIA.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill in November, putting it on the calendar for a Senate vote. The House companion bill, HR 1211, passed in February, however the House would have to vote on the Senate version for final passage. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has placed a hold on the bill, but Senator Leahy and others are urging him to release the hold and allow for a possible vote on Monday. Two other Senators had placed holds on the bill earlier this week but those have been released.
The Sunshine in Government Initiative, of which RTDNA is a member, encourages interested parties to call their Senators, to strongly support bipartisan legislation to strengthen the federal FOIA.