|NMU||WASHINGTON, D.C.||Freedom of Information||Jan 4, 2001|
City Council passes FOI bill covering compliance, electronic records
- A bill to make District of Columbia public bodies more responsive to the city’s Freedom of Information Act requests has passed after a mini-audit showed poor compliance.
The District of Columbia City Council adopted major improvements to the city’s Freedom of Information Act by consent vote on Dec. 20, clearly extending openness requirements to electronic records, making records of contractors subject to the act and setting penalties for officials who violate the act.
Like all city council enactments, the bill must not only go before Mayor Anthony Williams, it must also be approved the Control Board designated by Congress to oversee the District. Then Congress itself will review the measure for 30 days before any bills can become law.
This bill requires agencies to provide records in any form or format requested if the record is readily reproducible in that format and it requires electronic searches for records. It also requires agencies to post electronically records made available to a requester if they are likely to be the subject of future requests.
The bill extends the existing open records law to include records received or maintained by any private entity “performing a service or function on behalf of a public body.” It also subjects the city council to the act. It changes all references to “agency” to “public body” and defines “public body” as including the additional entities.
The bill makes it a misdemeanor for officials to fail to provide non-exempt records within the time limits of the city’s FOI Act. Violations carry a $100 fine.
The new provisions also require the mayor’s office to produce a detailed report of the numbers of requests made, and the numbers and types of responses to requesters.
Councilmember Kathy Patterson introduced the bill after conducting a mini-audit of the effectiveness of the city’s FOI law in October. The council staff found that five of seven city agencies stalled or completely refused to provide requested records that probably did not fall within city exemptions.
Patterson, who is a former reporter for The Kansas City (Mo.) Star, also conducted hearings shortly after the audit, inviting comment from several user groups, local newspapers, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association. Many of those who testified complained that District agencies have often simply ignored requesters despite the requirements of the 1968 FOI Act.
(B-13-129) — RD
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press