Senate Judiciary OKs FOIA Bill

Requires 'Presumption of Openness'

The Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved the Freedom of Information Act Improvement Act.

The bill was co-authored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and former chairman and current ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), an original co-sponsor of the bill, is the current committee chairman, so it had a leg up in the bipartisanship department.

The bill, a version of which was introduced in the last Congress, was reintroduced earlier this week. It would require a "presumption of openness" when considering the release of government information to journalists and the public under the FOIA and addresses the overuse of exemptions that allow government agencies to withhold information. It also puts more teeth in the Office of Government Information Services, which was created by the Leahy-Cornwyn OPEN Government Act in 2007.

“Having an open and accessible government is critical for Americans to hold their elected officials accountable," Cornyn said. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant to root out corruption, and I’m pleased to continue to work with Sen. Leahy and Sen. Grassley to shed more light on the federal government.”

Leahy added: “Senator Cornyn and I have a strong partnership, and we are determined to make progress on creating a more open and transparent government for all Americans. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 reflects the input of both sides of the aisle, the open government community, the administration and many other stakeholders. It is the product of careful negotiations and it marks an historic step forward in our continued effort to open the government. The Senate should take up and pass this bill so it can be considered by the House and enacted this year.".

In addition to the new bill and the OPEN Government Act, the pair also combined on the 2009 OPEN FOIA Act, which "requires Congress to clearly state its intentions when providing statutory exemptions to FOIA in new legislation"; in 2012 they also collaborated on Senate passage of the Faster FOIA Act, to curb FOIA backlogs and speed requests and granting of requests.

FOIA will celebrate its 49th birthday July 4.

“Transparency yields accountability — something our federal government needs more of," Grassley said. "I’m grateful for the efforts of ranking Mmember Leahy and Senator Cornyn to improve government accountability through the FOIA process, and I’m happy my colleagues agreed to swiftly report the FOIA Improvement Act out of committee."

A bipartisan FOIA bill was also intgroduced in the House this week. The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 is the handiwork of House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).