Senior Dem withdraws opposition to FOIA update

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) withdrew opposition to an update to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Monday, just hours before the measure would have died for the year. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the author of the FOIA Improvement Act, won unanimous consent in favor of the bill in a surprise announcement on the chamber floor.

{mosads}In addition to the Senate, the bill also needs to get through the House, which has a rule requiring that legislation be in the open for three days before it is voted on. Since Congress plans to leave Washington on Thursday, Monday was the final day Leahy’s bill could be considered in the Senate and still get through this year.

“Our legislation increases transparency while allowing government attorneys to do their job,” Leahy said in a statement earlier Monday. “The Senate must pass our legislation today so it can be sent over to the House and enacted this year.”

The bill would require federal agencies to permanently maintain a default position that information should be released to the public, called a “presumption of openness.” It would also limit an exemption allowing agencies to keep internal deliberations secret and make other changes to the transparency law.

Though it passed through the Judiciary Committee unanimously last month, Rockefeller had placed his hold on the bill out of fears that it could be a burden on regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.  

A Rockefeller official said the senator held up the legislation “out of concerns that the bill would have a chilling effect on internal deliberations within government agencies when agency attorneys prepare for an enforcement action — a move that could potentially undermine consumer protection.”

He lifted his hold after lawmakers agreed on report language claiming that Congress intends for courts to take agencies’ concerns “into consideration” when information about enforcement efforts is kept secret.  

Tags Freedom of Information Act Jay Rockefeller Patrick Leahy

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