LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A group intending to make the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act part of the state constitution is requesting input from voters.
The Arkansas Citizens for Transparency announced Wednesday that it was initiating the process to put the state’s Freedom of Information Act into the state’s constitution before voters on the November 2024 ballot. The group also wants to make changes to the act as it exists.
The FOIA was changed during the legislature’s recent special session at Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ request, citing security concerns. The broad initial changes met with resistance from members of both parties and the public until a bill with relatively minor changes was passed.
The governor’s request for changes came as her office was facing FOIA requests for spending documentation. While the initially proposed legislation would have enabled the office to withhold the requested documents, the final version required the documents to be released, including documents regarding a controversial purchase by the office.
In the group’s list of goals, returning the Arkansas FOIA to its pre-special session form was the first item listed.
The group also listed the goals of requiring any FOIA changes to be approved by voters, tightening the definition of a public meeting, allow citizens to recover attorney’s fees when enforcing the FOIA, create penalties for those who violate the FOIA, balance security of officials with the public’s right to know and to keep the amendment’s language simple.
It is asking for public feedback on the proposed changes at ARCitizens4Transparency.org. It is also requesting public help in signature gathering to have the proposed amendment placed on the ballot.
Ballot placement will require 90,704 signatures, which is 10% of the citizens who voted in the previous election.
The group’s Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee is chaired by Arkansas Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock). Joining Tucker in the committee is Nate Bell, former state representative and lobbyist, David Couch, attorney and public policy advocate, Jennifer Waymack Standerfer, attorney working in government affairs, Robert Steinbuch, UA Little Rock Bowden School of Law faculty member, John E. Tull, III, attorney for the Arkansas Press Association and Ashley Kemp Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association.