Senate backs legislation to make government records easily accessible
Mar 16, 2016 12:58 AM EDT
On Tuesday, the Senate backed a bill that would make it easier for Americans to access government records
According to The Times, lawmakers from every state adopted laws requiring government records, including meetings to be open to the public. However, some states have exempted themselves from complying. Republican leaders who control the legislature say releasing emails would reveal constituents' personal and sensitive information. However, Democrats are divided on the issue.
The bipartisan legislation, which was approved by voice vote, would require federal agencies to consider the release of any information from the government under a presumption of openness as opposed to a presumption that the information is confidential.
The goal of the bill is to minimize the number of exemptions the government uses to withhold information and create a single entryway through which people can submit a Freedom of Information Act request. ABC News reported that FOIA requests are currently handled by each separate agency, each with its own policies and regulations on how to submit a request.
Republicans in the Congress have complained that President Barack Obama and his administration haven't been fully open in sharing records with the public and lawmakers, says Bluefield Daily Telegraphy. The White House then criticized the House of Congress for exempting itself from the requirements.
The legislation was scheduled to pass during Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of access to public information. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas sponsored the bill. Senator Cornyn said on the Senate Floor that the passed bill will send a "clear message" that the American people have a fundamental right to know what the US government is doing.
In January, the House passed a similar legislation. Since the two legislations are not identical, the House will have to make a move again to send the bill to President Obama.