Policy and News Updates for April 7, 2005

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Policy Updates

[updated] Faster FOIA: Proposed Commission To Examine Delays Moves Faster Through Judiciary Committee

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.

Status: Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) added as co-sponsors.

Source: Text of S. 589; CBO cost estimate
Action: ALA Alert: Call your Senators!

[updated] 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. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) was added as a cosponsor. The companion bill in the House, H.R. 867, now has six cosponsors.
Source: AP story via the Washington Post ; 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.
Status: Introduced by Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-ID) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) April 6.
Source: Craig press release; SAFE Act press conference
Action: Contact Congress and sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition.

[updated] Nuclear Agency Use of Secrecy May Face Investigation

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asking for an investigation into how the agency is restricting public access to unclassified information. The letter noted many instances of the agency blocking public access to meetings, unclassified reports, and other information routinely used by public interest groups and community advocates. Markey also highlighted NRC’s recent rulemaking aimed at expanding its exemptions for Safeguards Information (SGI), which could hide almost any information relating to nuclear facilities’ emergency planning procedures and safety analyses, among others. Communities use this information to ensure it is being properly protected.

Status: Markey letter sent to NRC March 21. Comment period for SGI proposed rule closed March 28.

Source: Markey Press Release; Letter to NRC IG; Federal Register notice for proposed SGI rule; OMB Watch comments on rule; docket of submitted comments

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

OpenTheGovernment.org coalition partners form an unprecedented coalition of First Amendment advocates, good government groups, journalists, environmentalists, and organizations representing working men and women. The coalition works to stop the growth in government secrecy and advocates for greater public access to government information. Check out this list of organizations that are coalition partners and have signed onto the Statement of Values.

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:

  • In an editorial originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, Myriam Marquez talks about secrecy as an impediment to government accountability.
  • Mark Tapscott discusses Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) bill to fix FOIA.

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.

Flawed FBI Probe Of Bombing Used A Secret Warrant
[Washington Post April 7]

Congress Urged to Renew Patriot Act

[Washington Post April 6]

Timeout Proposed In Hazmat Rail Fight

[Washington Post April 6]

Gov’t Classification Decisions Hit Record

[Associated Press via ABC News April 5]

Judge Orders CIA to Disclose 1963 Budget

[Secrecy News April 5]

Patriot Act Changes to Be Proposed

[Washington Post April 5]

Feds Drop $373,000 FOIA Search Fee Demand
[Daily Business Review via Yahoo! News April 4]

Transportation Agency Hides Vital Data as ‘Sensitive Security Information’

[OMB Watcher April 4]

Daily Intelligence Briefings Are Vague, Officials Say
[New York Times April 3]

U.S. Government Snaps Up Secure Offices

[Associated Press via Newsday April 3]

Record Number of Terror Warrants Approved
[Associated Press April 2]

House panels vote out of view
[Associated Press via Washington Times April 2]

Open records legislation goes to governor

[Associated Press via Kansas City Star April 1]

Right-to-know backer proposes study

[Billings Gazette April 1]

Berger Will Plead Guilty To Taking Classified Paper

[Washington Post April 1]

Committee recommends court records be available online
[Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press March 31]

Senator From Texas Expects Fight on FOI

[Washington Post March 31]

Fresh Skirmishes in the Information Wars
[Inter Press Service March 30]

FOIA — the black hole

[FCW.com March 28]

Conservatives, liberals join to fight Patriot Act renewal

[Associated Press via First Amendment Center March 26]

Disclosure Of Hazmat Rail Plan Requested

[Washington Post March 24]

Pentagon denies mother’s plea for photo

[Cox News Service via Barre Montpelier Times Argus March 24]

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