Policy and News Updates for April 19, 2005

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Policy Updates


[updated] Faster FOIA: House Companion Bill Introduced
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced another bill March 10 that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Faster FOIA bill (S. 589) would create an advisory commission tasked with proposing ways to reduce delays in responding to FOIA requests. Remarkably, the bill already passed out of the Judiciary Committee on March 17. The Congressional Budget Office also released a cost estimate for the bill, putting the commission’s cost at $1 million. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the House version of the Faster FOIA bill (H.R. 1620) April 13.
Status: S. 589 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17. H.R. 1620 referred to the Committee on Government Reform.
Source: Text of S. 589; CBO cost estimate
Action: ALA Alert: Call your Senators!

OPEN Gov’t Act: Bipartisan Bill Strengthens Open Government
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the OPEN Government Act (S. 394) to strengthen openness in the federal government. The bill forces agencies to pay legal costs in more cases when faced with a lawsuit over improperly withheld records and puts in place other measures to hold agencies more accountable for fulfilling public requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Cornyn expects a larger battle over the legislation, according to the Washington Post.
Status: The bill was introduced on Feb. 16 and a Judiciary Committee hearing was held March 15. The companion bill in the House, H.R. 867, now has six cosponsors.
Source: OpenTheGovernment.org analysis; Text & Status of S. 394; Letter from Cornyn & Leahy seeking cosponsors; Statement of Cornyn; Statement of Leahy
Action: Tell your representatives to support the OPEN Government Act!

[updated] Patriot Act: SAFE Act
The Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act is a bipartisan bill that would amend the USA PATRIOT Act in order to protect civil liberties that have been violated by the Patriot Act. This includes amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and revising provisions governing search warrants authorized under the Patriot Act. A similar bill was introduced in the 108th Congress. Senate version (S. 737) introduced by Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-ID) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). House companion bill (H.R. 1526) was introduced by Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID).
Status: Both bills introduced April 6. S. 737 referred to Judiciary Committee and currently has 10 cosponsors. H.R. 1526 referred to the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee and now has 18 cosponsors.
Source: Craig press release; SAFE Act press conference; Text of S. 737
Action: Contact Congress and sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition.

[updated] Whistleblower Protection Legislation
Legislation to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act was reintroduced during the 109th Congress. The Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act is bipartisan legislation would ensure protection against reprisal for federal employees who bring government wrongdoing to light. It would require employee training on whistleblower rights, allow any court of appeals to hear a whistleblower case, and would cover any disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse. S. 494 was introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) March 2, and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) introduced H.R. 1317 on March 15.
Status: H.R. 1317 referred to the Committee on Government Reform. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs favorably reported out S. 494 on April 13.
Source: Akaka press release; Text of S. 494


**For other policies that OpenTheGovernment.org is watching, please visit our compendium.

The Resource Center at OpenTheGovernment.org provides a wealth of information for right-to-know advocates. Here you will find information to help you learn about the RTK issues, see what others have done, and access tools to help you become an RTK advocate. Four main sections comprise the Resource Center — Policy, Strategy, Library and Connect.


News Highlights

Looking for authors! The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service distributes op-ed opinion pieces on any topic related to freedom of information. Pieces related in some way to the Freedom of Information Act are especially welcome. The op-eds may be published freely as long as the author is credited. To view the latest op-ed as well as all pieces in the series, go to Knight Ridder/Tribune. Pieces should be 700 words in length and sent as part of the email message (without attachments) to Ray Walker at rwalker@krtinfo.com and oped@krtinfo.com. Please also let us know if you submit a piece!

Recent pieces:

  • Rick Blum discusses how the administration kept more secrets last year while the rate of declassification dropped.
  • In an editorial originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, Myriam Marquez talks about secrecy as an impediment to government accountability.


Note: These op-eds reflect the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the positions or viewpoints of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition or its Partners.

Annual Terror Report Won’t Include Numbers
[Washington Post April 19]

The Costs of Secrecy
[Washington Post editorial April 18]

Wave of N.C. public records bills seek more exceptions
[Associated Press via Winston-Salem Journal April 18]

Records hard to track in state
[Montgomery Advertiser April 18]

Data on officials gets more accessible
[Wisconsin State Journal April 16]

Kansas governor signs open-records legislation
[Associated Press via First Amendment Center April 15]

Bush to ASNE: Access Must Be Balanced with Security
[Editor & Publisher April 14]

Senate Committee Approves Greater Protections for Whistle-Blowers
[Washington Post April 14]

Broadcasters Must Reveal Video Clips’ Sources, FCC Says
[Washington Post April 14]

Classified Defense Spending Continues to Grow
[Secrecy News April 13]

In Advance of Court Battle Over State Secrets, Experts Discuss the Government’s Growing Use of Secrecy to Avoid Accountability
[U.S. Newswire April 13]

Journalist wins case for names of pardon applicants
[Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press April 13]

N.C. Supreme Court to hear ‘Sunshine’ case
[Outer Banks Sentinel April 13]

Legislature passes FOIL bill that would let the sunshine in faster
[Associated Press via Newsday April 12]

House leaders say they won’t accept Senate amendments to public access bill
[Associated Press via Seattle Post Intelligencer April 12]

Archivist vows records will be open and online
[Federal Computer Week April 11]

FISA Activity Continues to Soar
[Secrecy News April 11]

Local media push police for open records
[Rocky Mountain News April 9]

1986 ‘right to know’ law helps neighbors keep track of chemicals
[Milwaukee Journal Sentinel April 9]

Federal law does not retroactively protect gun records from disclosure
[Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press April 8]

Judge’s Hazmat Rail Plan Rebuffed
[Washington Post April 8]

Homeland Security backs hazmat signs
[Associated Press via Seattle Post-Intelligencer April 7]

Past Updates?