LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Just days after Gov. Sarah Sanders signed the new Freedom of Information bill into law, some concerned citizens are now already getting to work hoping to override it.
The new law is a simpler version of the broader revisions originally laid out. It is said to focus on the safety of the governor, her family and state police by keeping their travel security records private. That not only includes documents related to her Arkansas State Police security detail, but also any records reflecting their planning and provisions for services provided.
Former state representative Nate Bell is a part of the group fighting back. He said the public’s response to the FOIA bills filed — and even the scaled-back one that passed — is prompting him to do what he has wanted to do for several years: protect the Freedom of Information Act through the state constitution.
“What we’re looking to do is place the pre-special session Arkansas FOIA and place it in the constitution with clear language that establishes that the people of this state have a constitutional right to access their government,” he said.
Bell said while the consequences of the new law are worth looking into, they are not too significant to what could have resulted from original bills filed. He said he believes the original effort to take more off of public record like agency policy deliberations and communications in the state’s contracting and rulemaking process shows a continued threat to the state’s open-records law.
This ballot measure is not only a responsive to the special session, but preventative for any possible efforts in the future to broaden the revisions.
Bell said the group is hoping to get their initial ballot proposal to the Attorney General by Nov. 1. They will also be required to have their signatures submitted by July 2024.
When asked if there would be any other action taken in the future, including efforts to continue updating the FOIA law, Gov. Sanders said,
“I’m not ever going to take options off the table. I think any time we have the opportunity to do better by Arkansans, we’re going to look for those moments.”
Response the ballot measure from the governor’s office focuses more on what did pass than any other speculation.
Her spokeswoman, Alexa Henning said,
“As the Governor said last week, she is proud that legislation passed with bipartisan support to ensure the sources and methods used by law enforcement to protect constitutional officers and her family will be protected. Support that also includes the Arkansas Press Association and the Arkansas Broadcasters Association.”