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Reporters Committee statement on D.C.’s COVID-19 emergency legislation

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  1. Freedom of Information
The legislation would allow delayed responses to public records requests due to COVID-19.

Today, the D.C. City Council unanimously approved the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, which includes a provision that would allow D.C. government agencies to delay responding to records requests due to COVID-19. The D.C. Open Government Coalition has published a blog post that explains the provision in more detail. According to the Council, the emergency legislation will immediately become law as soon as it is signed by the mayor and will remain in effect for 90 days.

Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, made the following statement:

“We understand the need for emergency legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic but are disappointed that this Act allows for delays in responding to records requests. Access to information about the activities of the D.C. government is especially important during times of crisis. As D.C.’s government implements this Act, we urge agencies and city officials not to curtail the public’s right to access government records. At a minimum, public bodies should affirmatively make records and other information about COVID-19 and D.C.’s response to the pandemic readily available to members of the press and the public.”

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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