by Xerxes Wilson & Sarah Gamard
Democratic lawmakers and Attorney General Kathy Jennings are seeking to give government officials more power to hide public documents from the public.
A bill proposing those changes passed its first committee hurdle earlier this week. It seeks to empower government officials to deny requests for public records that those officials deem “unreasonably broad, unduly burdensome, abusive” or intended to “disrupt the essential functions of the public body.”
Advocates of open government have criticized the legislation, saying the vague language in Senate Bill 155 would allow government officials to withhold more receipts, emails and other documents that show the work of public officials and cover up things they do not want exposed…
John Kowalko III, who studied the bill for the government transparency advocacy organization Delaware Coalition for Open Government, said the change would be a “very large expansion” of the government’s ability to reject information requests using vague language that’s irresponsibly open for interpretation.
While some states include some of the individual terms used in the proposed law, he said he’s been unable to find a state open government law that includes such broad language empowering the concealment of documents.
Kowalko said he understands that requests for large amounts of information create logistical difficulties for government agencies, but doesn’t think the remedy to that problem is the “overly broad” exclusionary language included in the bill.
“FOIA is already bad in this state,” Kowalko said. “There is no reason to make it worse.”