Bill Introduced to Limit FOIA Exemptions

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By: E&P Staff

Members of Congress would no longer be able to use unrelated legislation as a way to make “stealth exemptions” to the federal Freedom of Information Act under a bill introduced Tuesday by Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Under their proposal, any bill creating an exemption to FOIA would have to explicitly cite the provision of the act that allows such an exemption, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) said in an analysis of the legislation. RCFP said the current section of FOIA that allows exceptions does not require specific notice that it is being invoked. As a result, it said, “senators and congressmen have been able to bury exemptions to the act deep in unrelated pieces of legislation.”

RCFP noted that the Cox News Service reported recently that at least 140 exemptions to FOIA have been made in that manner.

Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and Cornyn, the Texas Republican, have also sponsored a FOIA reform bill they call the “OPEN Government Act.” Cornyn said the two hope this latest legislation will be passed in time for President Bush to sign it into law on July 4, the 39th anniversary of the signing of the original FOI Act.

“The justification for this provision is simple,” Cornyn said in a prepared statement. “Congress should not establish new secrecy provisions through secret means. If Congress is to establish a new exemption to [FOIA], it should do so in the open and in the light of day.”

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