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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Good News on the FOIA Reform Front: Senate Judiciary Committee OKs Cornyn Measure Requiring Explicit Exemptions

There was some good news on the FOIA reform front on Capitol Hill today because the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on a voice vote a measure introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, requiring that Congress make explicit any new FOIA exemptions included in any future legislative proposal. The measure was co-sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT.

Cornyn's office issued a news release this afternoon that included these graphs:
"The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday cleared legislation ... to ensure greater openness in the legislative process. The bill (S. 1181), approved by a voice vote, creates additional legislative transparency by requiring that any future legislation containing exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements be 'stated explicitly within the text of the bill.' It is Cornyn’s third open government reform bill ...
"'This bipartisan legislation will help to ensure an open and deliberate process in Congress, and today’s vote gives me optimism that we will be able to clear this bill in the full Senate soon as well,' Cornyn said following the vote. 'The justification for this provision is simple: 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.
“'In recent years, we have seen more of these types of exemptions tucked in legislation, and while some are appropriate, every single one deserves scrutiny. Congress must be diligent in
reviewing any new exemptions to prevent possible abuses,' said Leahy, a longtime advocate for open government and FOIA champion.
Sens. Cornyn and Leahy introduced the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005 (OPEN Government Act, S. 394) on Feb. 16, and a separate bill on March 10 to establish an advisory Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays.
"Other co-sponsors of the OPEN Government Act include Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)."

The Cornyn-Leahy measure still must be voted on by the whole Senate and the House, then be approved by the President. In other words, there is a long road ahead. But Cornyn and Leahy are making progress.