LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Here’s the latest on the Arkansas extraordinary legislative session for Sept. 12.
5 p.m. update: The Senate State Agencies Committee adjourned just after 4 p.m. without voting on Senate Bill 9, which would change the scope of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
Public testimony had been taking place since 11 a.m. and was largely against any changes to the law.
The Senate had voted Monday to suspend the rules that required a committee vote prior to a floor vote.
The Senate briefly reconvened at 4:45 p.m. The only vote taken was to remove Senate Bill 7, which was the original proposal for FOIA changes, from consideration.
Bills to lower the state’s income tax and restrict how vaccine and public health information is distributed both sailed through committee hearings Tuesday with little fanfare.
The Senate and House must still vote in favor of identical bills for them to go before the governor for signature.
Arkansas FOIA debates continues, tax cuts pass Senate
3 p.m. update: At 2 p.m. Arkansas State Police Director Col. Mike Hagar testified to the Senate State Agencies Committee that Gov. Sanders faces a threat level “not even comparable to what we’ve dealt with in the past.”
Just before 2 p.m. a second version of Mayberry’s House Bill striking out what is in the Senate bill except for governor and cabinet security provisions was filed. This new bill, HB 1011, adds Sen. Bryan King (R-Grenen Forrest) and Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) as sponsors.
King is a member of the eight-member state agencies committee, which has been hearing public comments on the Senate version of the FOIA change bill since 11 a.m.
The bill’s co-sponsors who were also seen on HB 1010 are Rep. Cindy Crawford (R-Fort Smith), Rep. Wayne Long (R-Bradford), Rep. R. Scott Richardson (R-Bentonville), Rep. Johnny Rye (R-Trumann) and Rep. Jim Wooten (R-Beebe).
Their support would indicate a lack of support for other versions of FOIA change bills, including the version in the Senate which would require House approval before becoming law.
Mayberry’s bill, and the second bill revising it, were the only two bills filed by 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Arkansas FOIA debates continues, tax cuts pass Senate
1 p.m. update: Public comments are going into the second hour before the Senate State Agencies Committee, with speakers strongly opposed to FOIA changes.
Rep. Julie Mayberry (R-Hensley) filed a revised FOIA bill for the House at 12:42 p.m. HB 1010 differs from the revised Senate Bill, SB9, filed last night and is currently being heard by the Senate agencies committee.
Mayberry’s revised bill removes everything from the proposed FOIA legislation except items related to the governor’s security.
The House adjourned at noon without having any votes. It will reconvene 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the final day of the session. House committee sessions are currently underway.
The Senate has passed bills on tax cuts and COVID-19 regulations.
Senate minority leader Greg Leading (D-Fayetteville) has speculated on X, formerly known as Twitter, that procedural challenges may stop the FOIA bill from passing due to time constraints in the session.
A revised version of proposed changes to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was filed 9 p.m. Monday night after a hectic first day. It strikes out some changes in the original proposal, and would now permit documents attached to the legislative process to be obtainable under an FOIA request.
In the original proposal, an exemption to the deliberative process was made. If passed records such as notes and documents exchanged during the process of a bill becoming law would not be visible to the public.
The revised bill continues with its limits of details related to the governor’s security details.
Currently, the state is engaged in a lawsuit in Pulaski County over a FOIA request for the names of passengers who traveled with the governor on the state police airplane. If this proposal, which makes the changes retroactive to 2022, passes, the court case would likely become moot.
Opposition to changes to the Arkansas FOIA has been bipartisan, including public comments by county Republican party organizations and members of the legislature’s Republican super-majority.
Opposition generally comes from those concerned about the loss of government transparency. The FOIA is used to keep government activity public, including meetings and records after being signed into law by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in 1967.
Those wishing to speak against the proposed changes before the committee which would review the legislation and approve it for a full senate vote were at the capitol until late Monday. No public testimony was taken as the committee meeting was canceled.
The Senate State Agencies Committee has begun a hearing on the amended FOIA legislation at 11 a.m. to a reportedly packed room of those wishing to testify about the proposed legislation.
While complaints about FOIA came the same day as Sanders’ announcement, the other legislation is moving through the process.
On Monday committees passed legislation for tax cuts and to prevent state agencies from mandating vaccines or face masks with relatively little fanfare. A protest about the tax cuts is scheduled for noon Tuesday, outside the capitol.
The extraordinary session is scheduled to close on Wednesday.