AG Griffin rejects ballot title for FOIA, transparency amendment

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 649 views 

Citing problems in the text of a proposed amendment to incorporate the Freedom of Information Act and protections for government transparency into the state Constitution, Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected a group’s ballot title Monday (Dec. 11).

Griffin cited three major problems with the proposal, which was submitted by Arkansas Citizens for Transparency in November. The proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Create an Arkansas citizen’s right to government transparency;
  • Require a law making government business less transparent to pass through approval by the people of Arkansas; and
  • Allow the state of Arkansas to be sued in state court for failure to comply with Arkansas government transparency laws.

The group has submitted a proposed constitutional amendment and a proposed initiated act to flush out further details. That complication is one of the reasons cited by the Arkansas AG for his rejection.

“First, the proposed text lacks clarity regarding the meaning of key terms. Second, a voter reviewing your ballot title would not be sufficiently advised about the content of the statutes you are attempting to incorporate,” Griffin wrote.

Griffin also noted that the term “government transparency” is never defined in the amendment nor is it defined in existing state law.

“[I]t is unclear whether you intend this limitation on the legislature’s power to be identical with the citizen’s right to ‘government transparency.’ The meaning of this new constitutional right would likely give the voter serious ground for reflection,” Griffin said.

He also cited additional terms that are not defined clearly for voters. Examples he offered included “public record,” “public meeting,” “public notice,” and “public process.”

Griffin further suggested that the word “transparency” in the ballot title could also be construed as a reason for rejection.

“While the foregoing defects are sufficient grounds for me to reject your submission, please note that there is an additional issue with your proposed popular name. As one of my predecessor’s concluded in Opinion No. 2012-028, the use of the term ‘transparency’ in a popular name ‘has an obvious positive ring to it’ that seems more designed to persuade than inform. This raises a concern about partisan coloring. I am flagging this for you now in case you would like to provide an alternative in a future submission,” Griffin said.

You can read the AG’s full opinion at this link.

Arkansas Citizens for Transparency issued a statement following the AG’s opinion. The group said it was “perplexed” by his determination, but would work to satisfy his requests.

“Our multi-partisan Drafting Committee met this afternoon to jointly review the opinion concerning the Arkansas Government Transparency Amendment released today by Attorney General Tim Griffin wherein he deems government transparency to be a partisan issue. This leaves us greatly perplexed.

“We have travelled the state during the drafting process, sharing rooms with Arkansans of all party affiliations, working together to ensure access to their government. No one of any party was confused by what ‘government transparency’ means. No one has in any way viewed this as a partisan issue. In fact, the people have repeatedly expressed how refreshing it is to see Arkansans of all parties and perspectives come together on this issue. So, we ask the Attorney General which party opposes government transparency?

“As no citizen asked what ‘government transparency’ means, we did not expect our Attorney General to ask for that definition. The Constitutions grant rights through broad terms which the people understand. The Constitutions do not define free speech, free exercise of religion, or the right to bear arms. Our Attorney General’s Opinion indicates that the right to government transparency should be more restricted than our other rights in the Constitution.

“Because this Amendment was written for the people and with the people, the Drafting Committee will take any and all appropriate action necessary to empower the citizens of Arkansas and ensure their right to transparency and openness at every level of government,” the group said.