Contact your senator today to pass FOIA fixes!

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the S. 2520 FOIA Improvement Act  and now it awaits a vote by the full Senate. This is great news, but time is short for all of us to act! The House already passed a similar bill, so now it’s up to all of us to get this done.

Here is what the bill would do, if passed:

  • Requires in writing the presumption of openness. You would think that is already in FOIA, but it is not! This law would say that the presumption is that public records are open unless there is a law that states otherwise.
  • Limits the “catch-all” exemption. That pesky exemption 5 has allowed a lot of agencies to deny requests willy-nilly. The amendment would require agencies to weigh the public interest in the release of the information in their decision.
  • Strengthens the Office of Government Information Services. This federal ombudsman office would be able to get its recommendations for improving FOIA to Congress with less bureaucratic red tape and delay.
  • Requires agencies to post online records that have been requested at least three times. Very cool. Popular records should be easily retrieved by anyone.
  • No deadline, no copy fees. If an agency doesn’t meet its deadlines in responding to FOIA requests then it can’t charge search and duplication fees. Currently, agencies claim “unusual circumstances” in justifying delays.

In June, SPJ and a variety of other groups banded together to support the legislation. Then-SPJ-President David Cuillier testified before the Senate Judiciary in April to urge for the needed change. You can find more details about the legislation and process, courtesy of OpentheGovernment.org

Contact your U.S. senators now and let them know they should vote “yes”! See the handy online form. Write editorials supporting the legislation, and spread the word far and wide!


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