FOIA Reform Is Dead; Long Live FOIA Reform

December 17, 2014

Legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a key journalist's tool, died in the final hours of the do-nothing 113th Congress — but hopes remain that the coming 114th Congress could pass the bipartisan package.

The Senate passed its FOIA reform bill (S 2520) unanimously December 8, 2014, but the House did not take up the legislation before adjourning. The House had earlier passed its own similar FOIA amendments (HR 1211) on February 25, 2014, by in a sweeping 410-0 vote, but would have had to align House and Senate language to send a bill to President Obama for signature. That did not happen.

The bill's Senate passage was delayed by a "hold" placed on it by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), whose reasons were not clearly explained. Rockefeller eventually lifted his hold before Senate passage.

The apparent hang-up was made clear in various media reports and floor colloquies — anonymous opposition by shadowy banking interests, who feared that the bill's "presumption of openness" would somehow weaken the FOIA exemption (#8) for certain regulatory report information on financial institutions. Floor colloquies and a legislative report had emphasized that it would not do so.

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