Addressing Exemptions to FOIA
At first glance H.3190 seems to narrow the near-total exemption legislators currently enjoy from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but on closer inspection it’s not clear that this exception is being reduced at all. Even worse: it’s being expanded to other members of the government. The bill amends current law by extending the FOIA exemption of “working papers” of legislators and staff to the working papers of any elected or appointed public official or their staff. “Working papers” is also further defined to mean “internally created deliberative precursors to legislation, amendments to introduced legislation, or an ordinance.” Because we don’t know how “working papers” was interpreted before, this new definition may not be restricting the exemption at all.
The legislation would also create a new FOIA exemption for written or electronic correspondence sent from a member of the public to a public official, provided the member of the public isn’t a lobbyist, public official, corporation, partnership, or association. What’s notable about this provision is that it would still allow individuals representing special interests to contact a legislator without public knowledge, provided the individual is acting as a “private individual.”
Legislators should eliminate this exemption – not expand or redefine it.