Maine Freedom of Information Coalition Testifies to Shortcomings of FOAA Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org

MAY 1 TESTIMONY

The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition expressed concern this week that bills intending to strengthen the Maine public record laws will instead weaken them.

The MFOIC is a group of media organizations and open government advocates — including the New England First Amendment Coalition — who work together to strengthen Maine freedom of information laws.

The coalition testified to the shortcomings of LD 1575 and LD 1414 at a May 1 public hearing.

LD 1575 would, among other things, redefine what records would be considered public under the state’s Freedom of Access Act and clarify the time government agencies are given to comply with requests.

The proposed definition of “public or governmental business,” however, is “needlessly narrow, confusing, and subject [to] various interpretations by those charged with executing FOAA’s provisions,” according to remarks prepared by the MFOIC and delivered at a May 1 hearing. The current definition “is clear and sufficient as it stands.”

While the public records statute would benefit from clarification of the time allowed for response to a FOAA request, the proposed 60-day period is excessive, the coalition explained.

“In terms of working days, that is 10 weeks!” according to the coalition. “Records are often requested for particular purposes, e.g., to be able to respond to a hearing or time-limited request for comments.”

The coalition also criticized provisions in LD 1414 that would impose penalties on government agencies that willfully violate FOAA. While the intent of the bill should be applauded, stated the coalition, “the stated penalties will not be sufficient to incentivize full compliance” with the law.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about its government. In Maine, the coalition recently provided guidance to the state on proposed rules for its online judicial records system, sponsored a five-day investigative journalism training session for a Portland Press Herald reporter and coordinated a week-long celebration of free speech in Portland and Augusta.


NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University. 

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