Senate and House Introduce FOIA Legislation – February 3, 2015 Newsletter

– Brief Updates on Coalition Partners & Others (more)
– Senate and House Introduce FOIA Legislation (more)

– Wanted: Cameras in the Supreme Court (more)

News from Coalition Partners & Others
 

Partner Pushes for Open Federal Mine Safety Commissions Meetings

Mine Safety and Health News submitted a Sunshine Act Request to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission on January 27th. The independent reporting service requested that the Commission open its meeting on Brody Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor to the public. The Commission did not offer the required seven-day advance notice of the closure and did not offer a written explanation for closing the meeting. As the letter notes, the Brody Mine “has been the site of two recent mine fatalities, and has had an accident rate 248% higher than the national average.” The Commission did not open the January 29th meeting, as requested. MSHN will now push for access to the next meeting, on February 10th.  

 

Center for Effective Government, Environment Groups Successful in Fracking Secrecy Suit 

Drilling companies in Wyoming will now have to back up claims to secrecy about the chemicals they use for fracking. Companies across the United States keep information about the chemicals by claiming them as “confidential business information.” Several public interest groups, including Center for Effective Government (CEG), challenged this practice in a 2012 lawsuit. In the settlement approved on January 23, the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission will adopt policies including a higher level of scrutiny of “trade secrets” claims. Learn more about CEG’s work on environmental right to know here.

 

The Foilies: The Newest Awards for Outrageous FOI Responses 

 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wants to know about your most absurd, frustrating, or absurdly frustrating experiences requesting public records. EFF’s new award series, the “Foilies,” includes categories like “egregious copying fees,” “gratuitous glomars,” and “absurdly over-redacted documents.” Submit nominations to foilies@eff.org by February 20th. The guidelines are here.
 

 

Senate and House Introduce FOIA Reform Legislation

The House and Senate are taking another shot at strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. Yesterday, bipartisan FOIA reform bills were introduced in both chambers. The bills, introduced by long-time openness champions Senators John Cornyn and Patrick Leahy in the Senate (S.337) and Reps. Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings in the House (H.R. 653), are similar to legislation that passed in the 113th. Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner let the clock run out on reform last Congress after the Senate passed its FOIA bill close to the end of the Congress.

Both newly introduced bills would codify the “presumption of openness,” locking in the Obama Administration’s stance that agencies should process all requests for records under the presumption that they should be released. They would also rein in the (b)(5) exemption, place a sunset on its use, and strengthen the Office of Government Information Services. Neither bill includes the public interest balancing test included in the Senate’s original FOIA Improvement Act, but the House bill attempts to strengthen the prohibition on using (b)(5) to conceal binding legal interpretations and final agency policies.

“We applaud the bills’ sponsors for their continued championship of openness and accountability in government,” said Executive Director Patrice McDermott. “We urge Congress and the administration to support their efforts and pass these critical reforms to improve the public’s access to information about its government.”

 

Wanted: Cameras in the Court

This month, the Supreme Court announced it will hear landmark same-sex marriage cases. Given the historical significance of these cases, the Coalition for Court Transparency wrote to Chief Justice Roberts asking that the court provide live audio-visual coverage of the proceedings. Rep. Gerald Connolly is looking to make the practice a requirement with the newly-introduced Cameras in the Courtroom Act (HR 94). The legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Ted Poe, Mike Quigley, David Cicilline, and Steven Lynch, would ensure the Supreme Court permitted television coverage of open Court sessions, unless a majority of Justices vote that coverage would violate the due process rights of a party in the case.
 

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