Bill Seeks to Protect Citizens’ Access to Government Information
Delaware’s FOIA law ( 29 Del. Code, Chapter 100) provides citizens with a system for accessing public records and compels state officials to facilitate the process. Similar statutes exist on the federal level and in other states. Collectively, FOIA laws have often been instrumental in checking governmental power and uncovering instances of abuse, neglect, and inefficiency.
Rep. Shupe is sponsoring House Bill 203. The proposal would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act by prohibiting the governor from suspending it during a State of Emergency, unless he or she was able to demonstrate that complying with the act would prevent, hinder, or delay state action needed to cope with the crisis.
According to Rep. Shupe, his measure is a reaction to the governor’s suspension of FOIA for eight months during the pandemic. “I believe it is when we are in times of crisis that we most need full and complete access to information,” he said.
Rep. Shupe also criticized legislation recently introduced in the Senate. Senate Bill 155 would allow government agencies to deny FOIA requests if state officials believed the requests were “unreasonably broad, unduly burdensome, abusive” or intended to “disrupt the essential functions of the public body.” He said the bill, sponsored by freshman legislator, Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville), contains no definition of its key terms and could easily be abused by state officials looking to avoid disclosing potentially damaging or embarrassing data.
After receiving opposition from good government groups, Sen. Gay indicated in published reports that she will not move her bill forward until lawmakers return to the capitol after the start of the new year.