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Publication date: Mar. 22, 2007

HOUSE PASSES FOIA-STIFFENING BILL; SENATE POISED TO FOLLOW

The House passed four open-government bills March 14, 2007, most prominently one strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, which has been a key tool for journalists since 1966.

The FOIA-strengthening bill (HR 1309) passed the House 308-117 under fast-track "suspension" rules. It was mostly similar to one that had been examined by committees in the previous, GOP-run Congress which had never been taken up for floor action - the main difference being that it overturned the presumption of secrecy embedded in the 2001 "Ashcroft Memo" from the Bush Justice Department. The architects of HR 1309 were House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA). Clay chairs the Oversight Subcommittee on Information Policy.

The other bills passed by the House were:

  • HR 1254, requiring public disclosure of donors to presidential libraries
  • HR 1255, overturning a Bush executive order and establishing procedures for handling claims of executive privilege for non-disclosure of presidential records
  • HR 985, to clarify protection and disclosure policies under the Whistleblower Protection Act - including an amendment specifying that political interference with science is "abuse of authority" and that its disclosure is thus protected under the act
The same week saw re-introduction in the Senate of a bill substantially the same as the "OPEN Government Act" of the previous Congress, drafted by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the bill and is expected to move it soon.

Another important development was the sidetracking in both chambers of an amendment by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). That amendment would have enacted an "Official Secrets Act" in the U.S., criminalizing both the leaking and the publication of classified information. Under it, the New York Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers would have been illegal. Kyl had planned to attach the amendment to the bill enacting 9/11 Commission recommendations.


Last revised January 22, 2013

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