Senate Panel Schedules Meeting on FOI Legislation

10 November 2014

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Nov. 13 to consider S.2520, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014.

With limited time left in this session of Congress and new current swirled by the recent election, the hope is for “unanimous consent” passage in the Judiciary Committee and expeditious passage on the Senate floor.

The bill’s sponsors are working behind the scenes to tweak the bipartisan bill in response to modest doubts by other committee members, was told.

Avoiding opposition is considered vital at this stage. Even a small number of senators can derail a bill during the limited time allowed by the “lame duck” session that occurs between the election and the sitting of a new Congress. There have been hints that conservative Republicans will block all Senate legislation. Currently overall legislative strategies by party leaders are still being formulated by party leaders, but supporters of the FOI bill hope it can survive.

Senate passage is the last remaining hurdle. The House passed a similar FOI reform bill unanimously earlier this year.

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, introduced by senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), makes a variety of reforms.

It codifies the presumption of disclosure and the foreseeable harm standards.

It amends exemption 5 of the FOIA – which authorizes agencies to withhold inter- and intra-agency memoranda that fall within civil discovery privileges – by adding a public interest balancing test. Also, information created 25 or more years before the date of any FOIA request would not be subject to withholding under exemption 5.

The bill would limit the authority of an agency to charge a fee if the agency misses a deadline for complying with a FOIA request,

The legislation would enhance and expand the role of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is likely to head the Senate Judiciary Committee under Republican leadership next year, is a co-sponsor of the freedom of information bill.

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