Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders proposes carve-out of Arkansas public records law during tax cut session

Sep 8, 2023, 2:40 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday proposed shielding a broad range of records about her administration, travel and security from public release as she called for a special legislative session next week focusing on additional tax cuts.

The Republican governor proposed the new exemptions to the state’s Freedom of Information Act as the Arkansas State Police is being sued by an attorney and blogger who’s accused the agency of illegally withholding records about Sanders’ travel and security.

FOIA experts said the changes would severely weaken the 1967 law — signed by the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction — that protects the public’s access to government meetings and records.

Sanders, who took office in January, portrayed the changes as a way to modernize the law and make government more efficient.

“Arkansas has some of the most transparent FOIA laws in the country, and these reforms will do nothing to change that,” Sanders at a news conference at the state Capitol. “But some are weaponizing FOIA and taking advantage of our laws to hamper state government, and enrich themselves.”

The proposed changes would prevent the state from releasing records “revealing the deliberative process of state agencies, boards, or commissions,” including recommendations, memos and advisory opinions. Sanders said the language mirrors an exemption used at the federal level.

Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law and an expert on the state FOIA, said the move would “effectively remove transparency from state government operations.”

“I’m a conservative and conservatives claim to have fidelity to limited government,” Steinbuch said. “The only way to have limited government is through transparency and this will eliminate transparency for a host of decisions made by executive agencies.”

The proposal would also exempt records “that reflect the planning or provision of security services provided” to Sanders, as well as other constitutional officers and members of the Legislature. The proposal would instead require state police to release a quarterly report to the Legislature with the aggregate expenses for the governor’s security detail. If enacted, the security exemptions would be retroactive and go back to records from January 2022.

Sanders cited her experiences facing threats going back to her time as press secretary for former President Donald Trump and more recent ones, including an Oklahoma man who pleaded guilty last month to threatening to kill her and other Republican politicians.

“Our current FOIA laws put me and my kids at risk, so we will update sections of the law so that the sources and methods Arkansas State Police uses to protect me and my family outside the governor’s mansion are not subject to disclosure,” she said.

The proposal follows a law enacted in Florida to block the release of travel records of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is now seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Arkansas legislative leaders said they expect the changes to have majority support in both chambers of the majority-Republican Legislature.

Other parts of the measure would create an attorney-client privilege exemption under FOIA. It would also change the standard for courts awarding attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs in FOIA lawsuits, which critics said would deter citizens from filing lawsuits to seek records being withheld.

John Tull, an attorney and counsel for the Arkansas Press Association, said the proposal, if enacted, “puts a big hole in our FOIA.”

Other efforts to scale back the state’s transparency law were defeated in the legislative session earlier this year following concerns they would weaken the public’s access to public records and meetings. Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, formed a working group in June to look at possible changes to the law to take up in the 2025 regular legislative session.

Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker, who was named to that group, said there may be a fair argument that the security exemptions are time-sensitive but didn’t see the need to push now for other exemptions in a special session.

“All of the other proposed changes to FOIA, which are huge, I don’t see the argument that those are time-sensitive and can’t wait until January 2025,” Tucker said

The legislative session that begins on Monday will also focus on Sanders’ call to cut the state’s top individual income tax rate from 4.7% to 4.4%, a reduction that’s estimated to cost the state $150 million a year. Sanders is proposing cutting the state’s top corporate income tax rate from 5.1% to 4.8%, estimated to cost $35 million.

Sanders also called for a one-time nonrefundable tax credit to taxpayers making less than $90,000 a year of up to $150 per individual taxpayer and up to $300 for married spouses filing jointly. The credit will cost the state about $156 million.

The tax cut proposals come after the state ended the fiscal year with a $1.1 billion surplus, its second-largest ever. Sander proposed setting aside $710 million in surplus funds for a reserve fund “to keep responsibly phasing out the income tax entirely.”

National News

FILE - A man walks through wildfire wreckage in Lahaina, Hawaii, Aug. 11, 2023. Federal authorities...

Associated Press

Cleanup from Maui fires complicated by island’s logistical challenges, cultural significance

Cleanup of areas destroyed in the Maui wildfires could end up being one of the most complex to date, federal officials said, given the island’s significant cultural sites, its rich history including a royal residence and possibly remains of people who died in the disaster. The first stage of cleanup started in late August, with […]

2 hours ago

Toddlers dance during play time at Living Water Child Care and Learning Center as center director J...

Associated Press

Child care programs just lost thousands of federal dollars. Families and providers scramble to cope

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) — Kaitlyn Adkins is studying law to help families in her community impacted by the opioid epidemic at the heart of West Virginia coal country. But to do that, she needs someone to help look after her three toddlers. The first-generation college graduate said she wouldn’t be able to finish law school […]

3 hours ago

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023, in Washington. The Supreme Court is...

Associated Press

A test case of another kind for the Supreme Court: Who can sue hotels over disability access

WASHINGTON (AP) — A few years back, Joseph Stramondo was a last-minute replacement as a conference speaker in Salt Lake City. He went online and made a reservation for a room accessible for people with disabilities. “I figured, ‘OK, I should be set,’” Stramondo said. But when he checked in, the room he was given […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzho...

Associated Press

US warns of Chinese global disinformation campaign that could undermine peace and stability

WASHINGTON (AP) — For much of the world, China’s Xinjiang region is notorious, a place where ethnic Uyghurs face forced labor and arbitrary detention. But a group of visiting foreign journalists was left with a decidedly different impression. On a tour in late September sponsored by Beijing, the 22 journalists from 17 countries visited bazaars […]

3 hours ago

CAPTION CORRECTION: CORRECTS SPELLING OF NAME: Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson stands ...

Associated Press

Suspect charged in fatal shooting of Tupac Shakur to make court appearance in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A self-described gangster who police and prosecutors say masterminded the shooting death of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas in 1996 is due to make his first appearance Wednesday before a Nevada judge. Duane “Keffe D” Davis, 60, was arrested Friday during an early-morning walk near his home in suburban Henderson. A […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

These 8 Republicans stood apart to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Kevin McCarthy had support from 208 members of his conference to remain as House speaker. But it took only eight dissenters in his party to boot him from the job. A handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to make history as McCarthy became the first speaker in U.S. history to be […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders proposes carve-out of Arkansas public records law during tax cut session