Yesterday I read an interesting article published by the ABA Journal chronicling the history of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson fifty years ago on June 4, 1966. Apparently, President Johnson hated the law so much that he threatened to veto it after it was passed by Congress. While he said he supported open government, he was also concerned that there were certain circumstances, particularly involving national security, that trumped the public’s right-to-know. One of the interesting notes in the ABA’s article is that Donald Rumsfeld, then a Republican from Illinois serving on the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information, was at first an outspoken and vigorous supporter of FOIA. He changed his tune over time and eventually became a sharp critic of the legislation. The article reveals he is not the only person to have such a change in heart.
FOIA applies to requests for information and documents from the federal government and its agencies. Iowa has its own open records and open meetings laws that apply to the same requests for information and documents from the Iowa’s government and its agencies. Iowa’s open records law, Iowa Code Chapter 22 governs the public’s right to request and examine records of governmental and other public agencies. The law, with exceptions, gives every person:
“the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record or the information contained in a public record.”
Iowa Code § 22.2. The exceptions to Iowa’s open records law are numerous, (64 total) and include certain personnel records, medical records, and trade secrets. Those exceptions are the basis for most litigation regarding the law.
Similarly, Iowa’s open meetings law, Iowa Code Chapter 21, outlines when governmental bodies must make decisions in the open and when those decisions can be made behind closed doors. The law:
“seeks to assure, through a requirement of open meetings of governmental bodies, that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people. Ambiguity in the construction or application of this chapter should be resolved in favor of openness.”
Iowa Code § 21.1. It too, contains exceptions, again making it ripe for disagreement and eventual litigation.
Each year in March, proponents of transparency in government, FOIA, and state open records and meetings laws celebrate “Sunshine Week.” According to the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the purpose of Sunshine Week is to “promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” At the close of Sunshine Week 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an open meetings opinion regarding whether governmental bodies can use surrogate or proxy decision-making to circumvent Iowa’s open meetings laws. We were proud to be on the plaintiffs’ litigation team and were obviously pleased with the Court’s opinion, which we blogged about here.
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