The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Task Force on Friday endorsed legislation that would expand the state's public record law to cover private entities that perform government functions or provide "direct support" to a government agency.
The vote of the task force -- which is composed of journalists, attorneys and public officials -- is nonbinding. However, the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, said he will present Senate Bill 231 to a legislative committee next week along with a note of the positive endorsement.
"I thought it was great dialogue to arrive at a better product," Hammer said.
The task force talked about the bill for about an hour and then took a break to amend SB231 to address concerns from some task force members that the legislation would go too far. The task force voted 4-1 for SB231.
Hammer's bill was written in part by task force member Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law.
Because of Steinbuch's role in drafting the bill, he recused from the vote at the request of the task force chairwoman, Ellen Kreth.
Steinbuch said the legislation was drafted partially in response to articles published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about private athletic foundations at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Arkansas State University. Those foundations have asserted their immunity from the Freedom of Information Act.
Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor David Bailey attended the meeting but didn't address the task force.
Several task force members expressed reservations about how far the bill would go in extending the law to private entities.
Adam Fogleman, attorney for Pulaski County, said he was concerned about "the breadth of the language" in the bill, specifically a line referring to private entities "with a purpose of supporting" a governmental agency or public entity.
Jeff Hankins, vice president of strategic communications for the Arkansas State University System, suggested that the language would cover university foundations as well as chambers of commerce.
During a break in Friday's meeting, the language was changed to refer to a private entity "with the primary purpose of providing direct support" to a government agency or public entity. The support would be financial or with labor.
After the amendment, Fogleman voted for the measure, while Hankins cast the sole vote against it.
Also Friday, the task force tabled discussion on legislation by state Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, that would allow million-dollar lottery winners to have their identities excluded from release under the Freedom of Information Act.
Teague said he was still working out the details of where to set the threshold for winnings that would have to be disclosed, and for how long to allow winners to remain secret.
The task force agreed to consider Teague's bill at its next meeting on March 8.
Metro on 02/23/2019