Bill To Extend Records Request Timeline Fails In House Committee

Mar 15, 2017

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) speaks in the Arkansas House of Representatives Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday.
Credit arkansashouse.org

A bill that would have extended the period of time state or governmental entities can comply with a Freedom of Information Act request failed to advance out of an Arkansas House of Representatives committee on Wednesday morning.

Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Bob Johnson’s bill would have extended the time that agencies or entities could comply with FOIA requests from three working days to 15 days if the request they receive is “unduly burdensome.” Johnson said it was needed in cases of requests for large amounts of records, which can be difficult to gather even in the age of computers.

“You have multitudes of records, you’d think it’d be easier, but people are requesting more and larger records. Some of them may be digitized, some may not. So it can be overly burdensome,” Johnson said.

HB1622 originally set the compliance schedule for an unduly burdensome request at “a reasonable amount of additional time”. The House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs approved an amendment Wednesday to revise that provision and set that compliance period at 15 days.

Johnson said the change came after conversations with representatives of the Arkansas Press Association, which advocates for open records laws in the state. Johnson's bill failed to advance because no member of the committee volunteered to make a motion for a vote.

Dan Greenberg of the conservative think-tank Advance Arkansas Institute spoke against the bill. He said a keeper of requested records could easily abuse the process by interpreting unduly burdensome records requests too broadly.

“If I had anything to do with my time, then I don’t have to comply with this FOIA request. I’m allowed to place it at the bottom of my list of job duties. And those job duties could include reorganizing my office, sweeping out the place,” Greenberg said.

The bill is one of several that would place further limits on Arkansas’s 50-year old Freedom of Information Act. On Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed a law to go into effect without his signature that exempts Arkansas State Capitol Police records on personnel and security plans from FOIA requests.

UPDATE: Rep. John told KUAR he would likely bring the bill back to the committee after he amends the bill to allay any concerns.

"I didn't know there was opposition... So I'm going to meet with them and bring it back," he said.

Johnson said he didn't yet know exactly what he would change in the bill.