FOIA improvement bill by Cornyn, Leahy clears Senate Judiciary Committee

By Kelley Shannon
Executive Director
FOI Foundation of Texas

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Freedom of Information Act improvement bill Thursday that makes several updates to the landmark federal right-to-know law.

The next step for the measure by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is a vote in the full Senate. Many of the bill’s provisions were included in legislation that already unanimously passed the House.

Open government groups across the country, including the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, are urging passage of the act so it will be sent to President Obama before the end of the current congressional session.

The Cornyn-Leahy bill provides for a presumption of openness for federal agencies as they determine whether to release information under a FOIA request. That means it’s assumed that all requested records must be released unless there is a foreseeable harm or a specific legal or statutory ban on release. The act also requires creation of a centralized FOIA portal and strengthens an ombudsman agency’s oversight abilities.

The original Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966. It has undergone several updates.