CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation that press freedom groups say would provide important reforms to the federal government’s open records law passed the U.S. Senate Monday, after being briefly blocked by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
“Passage of the FOIA Improvement Act will help open the government to the more than 300 million Americans it serves,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont and a sponsor of the bill.
The measure was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate after Rockefeller withdrew his opposition, according to The Hill.
Groups that promote more transparency in government and support the bill had urged Rockefeller to drop his “hold,” a parliamentary procedure that allows one senator to prevent a measure from coming to the floor for a vote.
“Senator Rockfeller’s concerns are unfounded and should have been raised earlier in the process,” said Dana Neuts, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “SPJ believes that freedom of information is vital to a healthy and sustainable democracy and encourages those in support of open government to take action immediately.”
The FOIA Improvement Act codifies a presumption of openness in government records, ensures that requesters are not charged fees when agencies fail to meet their legal obligations, and strengthens ability of the Office of Government Information Services to act as a Freedom of Information Act ombudsman, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Also, the legislation limits the ability of government to withhold records under a “catch-all” exemption for internal documents, restricting its use to records that are less than 25 years old, similar to the privileges under the law governing presidential records.
The Senate bill is similar to a measure that passed the House unanimously earlier this year…