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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Monday, June 25, 2007

In Delaware, A Glimmer of Hope

This just in from Delaware...

A definite maybe. But don't hold your breath.

That's the answer today for Delawareans wondering whether bills to broaden the Freedom of Information Act to cover the General Assembly will be considered before the Legislature's adjournment Saturday.

House leaders promise a vote on one bill that would at least partially remove the General Assembly's exemption from the state's "Sunshine Law."

"Absolutely. That is a commitment I made," said House Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart, R-Middletown.

But that bill -- and a similar measure introduced months ago by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton -- face big problems in the Senate, where Sen. Thurman Adams Jr., D-Bridgeville, has long opposed bills that would open the doors to committee hearings, records and legislators' spending vouchers.

Any FOIA legislation that makes it to the Senate by Saturday, when the legislature adjourns, is likely to stay there, awaiting lawmakers' return in January for the second year of the two-year legislative session.

Peterson says she labors under no illusions that Senate Bill 4, her bill to bring the Legislature under FOIA, is at the top of Adams' priority list.

"Sen. Adams did tell me last week that he intends to move S.B. 4. I don't know when he intends to move it -- it could be next year," Peterson said.

The General Assembly's half-hearted efforts to open its closed doors are a stark contrast to a branch of government not covered by FOIA: the judiciary.

Most court records already are open to public scrutiny, but in February, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele issued a directive to Delaware's courts ordering them to adopt formal public access policies to cover the release of administrative records.

That includes financial records such as expense reimbursement forms and travel expenses on state credit cards -- records the legislative branch steadfastly refuses to release.

"The Judicial Branch supports the presumption of open public access to court records, including court administrative records," Steele wrote, "to promote government accountability and greater public trust and confidence in the Judiciary."

Patricia Griffin, the state court administrator, said the courts are working to implement the Supreme Court directive "to be sure that the appropriate policies are in place as soon as possible."

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