Give approval to FOIL bill

The state Senate has an opportunity to support open government by approving Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by Sens. John DeFrancisco and Michael Ranzenhofer. The bill was approved by the state Assembly during Sunshine Week in March.

The bill would speed up the appeal process when someone files a FOIL request, is denied by the government agency but prevails at the state Supreme Court level and then is stymied when the agency drags its feet for months in filing its own appeal of the court’s decision. The law currently allows nine months for an agency to make a decision to appeal, a time that is far too long and often kills FOIL requests. DeFrancisco and Ranzenhofer propose limiting the time for the agency to appeal the Supreme Court decision to two months. The state Committee on Open Government supports the change, stating in its 2014 annual report “because access delayed is often the equivalent of access denied.” Committee members also wrote the bill would save taxpayers money through the development of judicial precedent that makes it unnecessary to initiate lawsuits while calling the current nine-month time frame to appeal unacceptable.

We agree.

The state Assembly has already passed this bill and we have yet to hear of any opposition in the Senate. There has simply been no will to bring S. 1531 to a vote. That must change. Not only does this simple legislative tweak make sense, it could show the state Legislature cares about open government all year, not just during a one-week celebration. There is little reason we can see for contentious FOIL requests to be drawn out for three quarters of a year while an agency mulls an appeal. There should be a law against such stonewalling. If the Senate does what is right, there will be.