Government officials will turn out in force — or at least turn out whispering in the hallways — to oppose HB 1520 in committee today. It would make it easier to get attorney fees for plaintiffs who substantially prevail in Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and allow the state and its agencies to pay the fees. Word is that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is among those with objections to the bill. Say it ain’t so, Dustin.
Local government lobbyists naturally oppose it because the petty despots that run local courthouses and city halls are accustomed to playing hardball with unwashed citizens seeking public information and open meetings. If it were up to them, they’d impose a loser pays rule on FOI suits. Or repeal the whole act altogether.
AND SPEAKING OF THE FOI: I’m in receipt of a letter written in behalf of a group raising environmental objections to a water pipeline planned in South Arkansas. It is to be the subject of a closed meeting today between proponents of the pipeline and Teresa Marks, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. The letter notes that two members of the El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission are scheduled to be in the meeting. If that’s so, the meeting can’t be held in secret. Presumably Ms. Marks will allow representatives of the Save the Ouachita group attend the meeting under these circumstances. It’s at 1 p.m. today.
UPDATE: The FOI legal fees bill — which grew out of a Fort Smith case of secret government — failed on an 8-9 vote. I’m going to try to scare up a roll call. Opponents tried to kill it first with an amendment to protect public officials who made a “good faith” effort to comply. Does that mean they in good faith thought they did right in slamming shut the door to a meeting or in refusing to produce documents? I’m going to dig up the “no” votes.
Good guys: Evans, Pate, Edwards, Adcock, Brown, Cheatham, Greenberg, Wood.
Bad guys: Jeffery, Hardwick, Pace, Harris, Green, Reynolds, Lovell, Hall, Saunders.