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Arkansas Attorney General rejects FOIA amendment

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, left, gestures during a news conference at the Arkansas Capitol.
John Sykes
/
Arkansas Advocate
Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected a ballot proposal Monday to enshrine FOIA in the state constitution.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected a group's first attempt to get a constitutional amendment strengthening open records laws on the 2024 ballot.

An organization called Arkansas Citizens for Transparency is trying to get an amendment on the ballot in 2024 which would enshrine the Freedom of Information Act in the state constitution.

Arkansas has some of the strongest FOIA laws in the nation. This year, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders failed to roll back the law. She said its broadness jeopardized her safety and wanted to significantly alter it. The plan received massive bipartisan backlash. Sanders was able to pass a piece of compromise legislation exempting her travel information from FOIA.

The proposed FOIA amendment, put forth by attorneys David Couch and Nate Bell, would undo the law passed by the legislature and enshrine FOIA in the state constitution. The attorney general objected to several parts of the proposal that he found to be unclear and incomplete.

Griffin said terms like “government transparency” in the proposed amendment “is never defined in the existing state law,” meaning the amendment could accidentally create a new constitutional right.

The group responded in a letter. They reiterated the bipartisan nature of the amendment and said they were “greatly perplexed” by the ruling.

“No citizen asked what government transparency means, we did not expect our attorney general to ask for that definition,” the letter said. “The constitution grants us rights through broad terms which people understand.”

The attorney general said other phrases like “notice, meetings & records” needed to be defined in the proposal.

“The foregoing problems are likely the result of a larger underlying problem: the lack of the full text of the proposed measure,” his ruling said. He explained that the proposal has several sections with missing information. Griffin said this is “misleading by omission."

Arkansas Citizens for Transparency can resubmit the proposal. If they get it approved by the Attorney General, they must collect over 90,000 signatures from across the state to get it on the ballot for 2024.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.