Senate Judiciary to make move on FOIA reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider an update to the law managing the public’s access to government records in one of its first legislative acts this year. 

Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday will hold a markup of the FOIA Improvement Act, which unanimously passed the Senate last year but failed to make it to President Obama’s desk. 

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Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Lawmakers bypass embattled Mulvaney in spending talks MORE (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, on Monday re-introduced the bill to update the Freedom of Information Act along with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE (R-Texas).

One of the largest changes in the bill would require agencies to adopt a policy that presumes disclosure and would ban denials of records based on technicalities. Obama directed agencies to adopt this policy when he first came into office, but the legislation would seek to make it permanent and not subject to the discretion of future presidents.

The Senate bill would also update a provision that allows the government to withhold some agency documents that would be exempt during litigation. The update would end that exemption for documents more than 25 years old. 

The bill would also make more documents available online and would expand a program that requires agencies to post records regularly used by the public. It would clarify that individuals cannot be charged for information that was handed over late.

The Senate’s early consideration of the bill is a good signal that it could make it to the finish line this Congress. A number of civil liberties and watchdog groups have urged passage. 

The Senate approved the bill last December, with just weeks left before the session ended. 

The House approved a similar measure earlier in 2014, but did not take up the Senate bill during the limited lame-duck schedule

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Monday re-introduced their own FOIA update.