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Arkansas Citizens for Transparency said ballot initiative would create commission

Several drafters of a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in the state Constitution participated in a public forum in Little Rock on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. From left: attorney David Couch, Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Ashley Wimberley, Democratic state Sen. Clarke Tucker, attorney Jen Standerfer and former independent state representative Nate Bell.
Tess Vrbin
/
Arkansas Advocate
Several drafters of a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in the state Constitution participated in a public forum in Little Rock on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. From left: attorney David Couch, Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Ashley Wimberley, Democratic state Sen. Clarke Tucker, attorney Jen Standerfer and former independent state representative Nate Bell.

Last week, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, approved the ballot title by the Arkansas Citizens for Transparency to add protections for the Freedom of Information Act into the state’s constitution.

In an interview with KARK Channel 4’s Capitol View, Jen Standerfer, an attorney, who is working with the group, said her group is also trying to create a way to enforce FOIA. She said one of the challenges to enforcing the law is citizens have to hire private attorneys and creating a commission would provide an alternative to that method.

"We created this commission that allows individuals to go and ask for help to get disclosure when government violates the FOIA. This commission will be able to step in and get compliance and will able to make recommendations to the General Assembly," she said.

She said the commission will also have the power to sanction for noncompliance with FOIA.

Standerfer said the office of the Arkansas Attorney General made changes to how the commission would work.

"He also had us remove some funding language. We tried to put some language in there that would have protected the commission from being defunded by the General Assembly. We wanted to let them [the commission] raid the constitutional officers fund if they didn't get the appropriate money," she said.

Standerfer said this was a valid legal argument by the AG's office.

After having their ballot title approved last week by the attorney general’s office, the group will now have to collect about 90,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.