Senate Passes Freedom of Information Act Reform Bill

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On August 3, 2007, the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent passed the “OPEN Government Act of 2007? (S. 849), a bill mandating major reforms in the operation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Similar legislation (H.R. 1309) overwhelmingly passed the House earlier this year by a vote of 308-117. It is unclear at this time whether a conference committee will be needed to iron out any differences between the two bills or whether the House will simply adopt the Senate bill as passed.

Specifically, S. 849 ensures that anyone who gathers information to inform the public, including freelance journalist and bloggers, may seek a fee waiver when they request information under FOIA. The bill ensures that federal agencies will not automatically exclude Internet blogs and other Web-based forms of media when deciding whether to waive FOIA fees. In addition, the bill also clarifies that the definition of news media, for purposes of FOIA fee waivers, includes free newspapers and individuals performing a media function who do not necessarily have a prior history of publication.

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