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Freedom of Information Act advocates ready to unveil constitutional amendment proposal

On Tuesday, representatives in the Arkansas House met to start the special session by reading Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call. The House and Senate voted to approved proposed tax cuts by the governor.
Arkansas House
During the special session called by Gov. Sarah Sanders, changes to the state's Freedom of Information Act were made. Groups who opposed those efforts are working together to get the transparency laws enshrined into the state's constitution.

By next week, expect to see the first draft of a proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into the Arkansas Constitution.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Capitol View, attorney David Couch – who has successfully led ballot initiative campaigns in recent years – said the group he is working with to place an amendment to protect Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act into the state constitution should have a draft to share publicly.

“There has been a group of us that have been working diligently for the last few weeks on a draft of the amendment. I think that we’re probably going to release it early next week because since this is openness and transparency, we’re going to be open and transparent,” he said.

Couch said his working group, which includes a broad range of political interests from the far left, middle of the road, and far right, wants to include other perspectives in the measure, if the ideas are worthy. He wants the proposal to come closer to the law before a recent special session made changes.

“Maybe there’s things that we didn’t think about that should be included. Or maybe there’s things that in there that people don’t want included in there. But basically, it’s going to set [FOIA] back to September 1st, 2023, and then we’ll do public meetings in there. We’re going to have a section with public meetings because it’s always been kind of a difficult definition in Arkansas as to what is a public meeting,” Couch said.

He also said his group wants to include stricter penalties for those who violate the FOIA.

To qualify for the ballot, Couch’s coalition will need to clear the hurdle of ballot title approval from Attorney General Tim Griffin. Then, it would need to collect 90,704 valid voter signatures across more than half of the state’s counties to qualify for the 2024 general ballot.

“We had a really good act. I mean, it’s been in the law since the 1960’s, and I think national people have always looked at us as a model of openness and so we want to keep that model going. And the reason we want to put it in the Constitution is to make it a little bit more difficult for the General Assembly to tinker with,” Couch said.

You can watch his full interview in the video below.

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.