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Arkansas Freedom of Information Act

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The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was established in 1967. It is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies.

The Arkansas Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Statutes 25-19-101 through 25-19-109 define these transparency laws.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in Arkansas, please see Arkansas FOIA procedures

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Arkansas sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of lawsuits in Arkansas (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Arkansas Gazette Co. v. Southern State College 1981
Arkansas Hwy. & Transp. Dep't v. Hope Brick Works Inc. 1988
Bryant v. Mars 1992
City of Fayetteville v. Edmark 1990
Kristen Investment Properties, LLC v. Beaverfork Volunteer Fire Department 2000
Laman v. McCord 1968
Legislative Joint Auditing Committee v. Woosley 1987
North Central Association of Colleges & Schools v. Troutt Brothers, Inc. 1977
Ragland v. Yeargan 1986
Rehabilitation Hospital Services Corporation v. Delta-Hills Health Systems, Agency, Inc. 1985
Republican Party of Arkansas v. State ex rel. Hall 1966
Scott v. Smith 1987
Sebastian County Chapter of American Red Cross v. Weatherford 1993
Swaney v. Tilford 1995


Proposed transparency legislation

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011


We do not currently have any legislation for Arkansas in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010


We have no current bill pages for Arkansas from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.


2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

House Bill 1049 was one of several bills proposed by Rep. Dan Greenberg that was designed to strengthen the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.[1] It provided for review of a FOIA denial by the Attorney General's Office.[1] It was referred to the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee in the House in January of 2009, where it remained as of April 2009.[1]

House Bill 1050 required new laws that would create exemptions to FOIA to identify with specificity which records or meetings the law exempts.[2] Rep. Greenberg said, “This is kind of a blinking red light, so that from now on when somebody tries to narrow the FOI, at least we’ll know.”[3] After failing to pass the House initially, Rep. Greenberg credited the further explanation he gave House members for the bill's passage on January 27, 2009.[4]

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed HB 1050, and the bill proceeded to the Senate for a vote.[5] HB 1050 passed the Senate 33-2. Governor Mike Beebe's office has stated that he planned to sign it into law.[6]

House Bill 1051 would have allowed access to criminal records for certain individuals.[7] It was defeated 56-33, and a request by the sponsor to return the bill to committee was refused.[8]

House Bill 1052 sought to prohibit retaliation against government employees that file FOIA requests.[9][3] It was passed in the House and Senate.[9]

House Bill 1053, known as "The Open Checkbooks in Government Act," sought to create an online database of state expenditures. It was referred to the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee in the House.

House Bill 1091 sought to broaden the reasons for which a school board may go into executive session.[10] It was passed in the House and Senate.[10]

House Bill 1326, sponsored by Rep. Lindsley Smith (D-Fayetteville), was a revised version of a bill that failed to pass in 2007.[11][12] HB 1326 would have allowed FOIA plaintiffs who file claims with the Arkansas State Claims Commission to recover attorney fees in successful cases.[13][14] It was passed in the House and Senate.[11]

House Bill 1623 sought to prevent the disclosure of information regarding concealed weapon carry licenses.[15] It passed the House Judiciary Committee and moved to the House, where 54 members signed on as co-sponsors.[16] HB1623 passed the House 98-1.[17] It passed the Senate 34-0 and returned to the House for concurrence on an amendment.[18][15]

House Bill 2091 sought to establish transparency in the bidding process for publicly funded buildings, infrastructure and facilities.[19] It was introduced in March of 2009.[19]

Senate Bill 55 sought to increase transparency related to the salary of administrators in state funded higher education institutions.[20] It passed both houses.[20]

Senate Bill 251 would have prohibited the release of information about motor vehicle accidents for commercial purposes until 90 days after the accident.[21] The Arkansas Sheriffs Association and the Association of Arkansas Counties opposed the measure, saying that it "attacks a part of the foundation" of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Senate Bill 943 sought to improve parents' access to public school data on achievement gaps and on public school plans to close achievement gaps.[22] The bill was passed in the House and Senate.[22]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Arkansas #8 in the nation with an overall percentage of 58.40%.[23]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Arkansas 72 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "C" and a ranking of 7 out of the 50 states.[24]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Arkansas's law as the 4th best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "B-."[25]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The legislative intent of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act reads as follows: "It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that the electors shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in making public policy. Toward this end, this chapter is adopted, making it possible for them or their representatives to learn and to report fully the activities of their public officials."[26]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Arkansas defines public records as "writings, recorded sounds, films, tapes,electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations in any medium required by law to be kept or otherwise kept and that constitute a record of the performance or lack of performance of official functions that are or should be carried out by a public official or employee, a governmental agency, or any other agency wholly or partially supported by public funds or expending public funds."[27]

Exemptions

Exemptions to open records include:

  • state tax records
  • medical/adoption/education records
  • archeological and historical information
  • grand jury minutes
  • unpublished drafts of judicial opinions
  • undisclosed police investigations
  • "unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices,Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General"[27]
  • information that would create unfair competition
  • identities of undercover law enforcement
  • computer security information
  • "personnel records to the extent that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy"[27]
  • home addresses of non-elected employees
  • license examinations
  • military service discharge information
  • records relevant to the security of public infrastructure

It is important to note that according to Arkansas statute, "[n]o request to inspect, copy or obtain copies of public records shall be denied on the ground that information exempt from disclosure is commingled with nonexempt information."[27]

Deliberative process
See also: Deliberative process exemption in Arkansas

The Arkansas Revised Statutes establish an exemption for the working papers of the Governor, all legislators, judges and the Attorney General. However, this exemption only covers the legislators themselves and the Attorney General and his direct staff and does not include legislative committees and outside attorneys hired by the Attorney General.

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

The public records of all government agencies and any agencies supported by public funds are open to inspection.[28]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency and Laman v. McCord

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act's broad definition of public body found at has been held to include legislative bodies per Laman v. McCord.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars in Arkansas

Under Arkansas law, private entities which either receive governmental funding or perform a governmental function are considered public bodies and are subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. This assumption was confirmed in Arkansas Gazette Co. v. Pickens, which held that the Board of Trustees of a state university is a public body.[29] The law does explicitly exclude student information exempt under federal law.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Originally, any citizen of the state of Arkansas could request records during normal business hours, with the exception of individuals on trial and convicted felons who request information concerning the Department of Corrections.[30] However, the restriction to only citizens of Arkansas has been lifted by recent federal court rulings.

Impact of Lee v. Minner

In 2006, the Judgepedia:United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the case Lee v. Minner rejected the constitutionality of Delaware's law that disallowed non-residents from making public record requests.

The Third Circuit's rulings are logically applicable to Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and any other state that restricts access to records, although its rulings are only legally binding on states in the circuit. As a result, the provision in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act that prohibits non-residents from access to records is likely to be considered invalid.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

The Arkansas law does not require a statement of purpose for FOIA requests.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

The Arkansas law does not place limitations on the use of FOIA requests.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Public bodies have 24 hours to determine eligibility of a FOIA request.[30]. If the records are unavailable, the department has three business days to assemble them.

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Fees for FOIA requests in Arkansas can include any costs associated with publication and reproduction but cannot include fees associated with the payment of personnel. The department may require the fee to be prepaid if the cost is over $25. Fees can be waived on an individual basis if the records are requested for the public interest and not for commercial purposes.

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

The Arkansas law does not allow public bodies to charge for search fees or to charge for the payment of employees involved in searching for records requests.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for Arkansas does authorize the State Attorney General to provide opinions, albeit non-binding ones, in specific cases involving personnel and job evaluation records. Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(c)(3)(B) states, "Either the custodian, requester or the subject of the records may immediately seek an opinion from the Attorney General, who, within three (3) working days of receipt of the request, shall issue an opinion stating whether the decision is consistent with this chapter. In the event of a review by the Attorney General, the custodian shall not disclose the records until the Attorney General has issued his opinion." However, § 25-16-702 of the Arkansas Code Annotated points out that the only individuals who can request an opinion of the Attorney General are the Governor, heads of the state executive departments, prosecuting attorneys of any circuit, both houses of the State General Assembly and county boards of elections commissioners.

The State Attorney General is also charged with the power of enforcement in cases of FOIA non-compliance. The State Supreme Court case of Bryant v. Weiss (1998), in which the state's top law enforcer was regarded as a citizen entitled to employ the FOIA, affirmed this opinion. Therefore, the State Attorney General may file a request that had been denied to another citizen and, if the request is once again denied, then he/she may bring civil action under the FOIA in place of the original requester.

Open meetings

Public meetings are defined as: "all meetings, formal or informal, special or regular, of the governing bodies of all municipalities, counties, townships, and school districts and all boards, bureaus, commissions, or organizations of the State of Arkansas, except grand juries, supported wholly or in part by public funds or expending public funds, shall be public meetings."[31]

See also

External links


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Text & Status of HB1049
  2. Text & Status of HB1050
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lawmakers get back to work, Arkansas News, January 21, 2009
  4. House approves bill to protect Freedom of Information Act, Arkansas News, January 27, 2009
  5. Senate panel advances bill on Ark. FOI law, January 29, 2009
  6. Ark. Senate approves FOI measure, Associated Press, February 16, 2009
  7. Text & Status of HB1051
  8. Keep the Sunshine Out?, The Arkansas Project, February 13, 2009
  9. 9.0 9.1 Text & Status of HB1052
  10. 10.0 10.1 Text & Status of HB1091
  11. 11.0 11.1 Text & Status of HB 1326
  12. Status of HB 1326
  13. Ark. lawmaker tries anew with FOI lawyer fees bill, February 3, 2009
  14. Panel endorses bill granting attorney’s fees for FOIA winner, Arkansas News Bureau, February 24, 2009
  15. 15.0 15.1 Text & Status of HB1623
  16. Panel advances bill to make concealed handgun permit information secret, Arkansas News, March 5, 2009
  17. House passes trauma system bill, Arkansas News, March 6, 2009
  18. Senate approves concealed carry bill
  19. 19.0 19.1 Text & Status of HB2091
  20. 20.0 20.1 Text & Status of SB 55
  21. Text & Status of SB251
  22. 22.0 22.1 Text & Status of SB 943
  23. 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
  24. States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
  25. Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
  26. Legislative intent 25-19-102
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Arkansas FOIA
  28. Arkansas Rev. Stat. 25-19-103(5A)
  29. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named know
  30. 30.0 30.1 Arkansas FOIA
  31. Open public meetings 25-19-106