LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A third bill looking to make changes to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act advanced through the General Assembly Wednesday after days of public testimony and many changes.
This latest bill was filed Tuesday night and is more narrowly focused on the governor’s security rather than creating an attorney-client privilege exemption for state records and changing how attorney’s fees are rewarded in open-record lawsuits.
Two earlier bills that sought to make those changes were met with broad opposition from both political parties.
State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) explained the timeline of going from the first two bills to the newest one.
“The whole week we had a Freedom of Information Act bill that was huge in scope that I thought would really cripple transparency of government in Arkansas,” Tucker said. “Ultimately we got to a point where everything but the security for the governor was stripped from the bill.”
While Tucker said the bill was still too broad, he ultimately voted to support it for the governor’s sake, casting his “yea” vote on the Senate floor while symbolically wearing a University of Arkansas tie.
“I think the Razorbacks and government transparency are one thing all Arkansans can agree on, no matter what the ideology is,” he said.
That bipartisan support was not uniform, though, with State Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock) noting that she still cannot get behind the new bill, even with its narrower focus.
Hudson said one of her issues with the legislation was its retroactivity clause, which goes back to 2022. Arkansas State Police testified on behalf of this, noting that it is necessary because the governor and her opponent both had young families at the time of the election, something Hudson questioned.
“At this point, those documents have been available to the public for over a year, so any concern about it being available to the bad guys or someone who might misuse it, it’s really been mooted by the fact that they’ve had over a year to access it,” she said.
Still, Hudson acknowledged the bill is likely to pass and become law something Senate Pro Tempore Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) said would be a result of hours of public testimony and lawmakers listening to their constituents.
“We’ve got bipartisan support on a bill that I think the people of Arkansas can be proud of it,” Hester said. “I think it’s important for Arkansans to know that you spoke, and we’ve listened.”
The full House will vote on the bill Thursday morning.