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Arkansas AG Tim Griffin forms group to consider possible changes to state's Freedom of Information Act

Tim Griffin, the attorney general of Arkansas, has formed a group to consider possible changes to the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Wednesday formed a group to look at possible changes to the state's Freedom of Information Act after efforts to scale back the open records and meeting law failed in this year's legislative session.

Griffin's office said the seven-member Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Review Working Group was expected to give recommendations in spring or summer of 2024, which the attorney general could include in his package of bills for the 2025 legislative session.

"The last time FOIA was modernized, the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet," Griffin, a Republican, said in a statement. "Since then, the use of digital records and new communications technology has increased exponentially, making it possible for public entities to create and retain more records than ever before, making responding to FOIA requests more complex and increasing the amount of FOIA requests being lodged with public entities. That is why this working group is so badly needed."

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Arkansas' FOIA was signed into law in 1967 by Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. The law has faced multiple efforts in recent years to exempt more records from the public eye.

Griffin formed the group following a legislative session where two changes to the FOIA were defeated following concerns they would weaken the public's access to public records and meetings. One of the bills would have dramatically expanded the records that are shielded from public release. Another would have made it easier for local elected officials to meet out of public view.

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Jeff LeMaster, a spokesman for Griffin's office, said the group has already held its first meeting and would meet regularly beginning in September. LeMaster said the panel's meetings would not be open to the public, since it's an informal group advising the attorney general, but said any recommendations that Griffin decides to put in his legislative package would be released publicly.

"It is important to be proactive in having these discussions in advance of legislative sessions," Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Ashley Kemp Wimberley, a member of the new working group, said in a statement released by Griffin's office. "I look forward to hearing the thoughts and ideas of others in this working group and seeing where there are opportunities to find middle ground while maintaining the strength of the state’s FOIA."

Other members of the working group include Republican Sen. Breanne Davis, Deputy Attorney General Ryan Owsley, Deputy Attorney General John Payne, Republican Rep. David Ray, Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker and attorney John Tull.

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