The Senate passed a $44.1 billion appropriations bill this afternoon to fund the Dept. of Homeland Security. Although you wouldn’t know it from reading this Associated Press story, the bill included two pieces of legislation that were being closely watched by open-government advocates.
The OPEN FOIA Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and pursued vigorously for several years by the Sunshine in Government Initiative (AAN is a founding member), will make it more difficult for government agencies and their congressional enablers to slip FOIA exemptions into legislation under the fog of legalese.
Ironically, the bill also included its own FOIA exemption, allowing the Dept. of Defense to withhold hundreds of photos documenting the abuse of detainees held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. You may remember this issue from back in May, when President Obama announced that he had directed government lawyers to object to the release of the photos in response to a FOIA request filed by the ACLU. The passage of the Homeland Security appropriations bill effectively moots the ACLU case, which was likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s probably a net positive since a bad ruling by the Supremes might have caused lasting damage to FOIA law.