The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one of the most comprehensive and strongest open-records and open-meetings laws in the United States.
Attorneys General in Arkansas have been vigorous defenders of the act since its passage in 1967.
The Attorney General joins the Arkansas Press Association and other entities to publish a useful and informative “Freedom of Information Act Handbook” after every regular session of the General Assembly. The handbook is a ready guide to the FOIA that assists Arkansas residents and journalists in using the law and government entities in complying with it. The handbook’s 17th edition was published in December 2015. Free copies of the handbook are available from the Attorney General’s office. A copy may be downloaded below. The handbooks may be requested by telephone at (800) 482-8982 or (501) 682-2007 or by email.
The Attorney General also hosts FOIA “Road Shows” at several locations across the state each year. The Road Shows are informative workshops on the FOIA, and they often include panel discussions from working journalists and attorneys on the practical application of the law.
FOIA at a Glance
- The law gives Arkansans access to public records and public meetings, with limited exceptions.
- Governing bodies must comply with the open-meetings section of the law if they are making decisions on the public’s behalf.
- A public record is defined as any writing, sound or video that reflects the performance or lack of performance of an official function.
- All records maintained by public employees within the scope of their employment are presumed to be public records, though several exemptions may shield a record from disclosure.
- Government entities generally have up to three days to provide a record requested under the FOIA.
- Custodians of records may only charge for the “actual costs” of reproducing public records, plus mailing expenses.
- Notice of public meetings must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified, and notice of special meetings must be provided to members of the news media who have requested notice of such meetings.
- Governing bodies may only enter into closed sessions for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of an individual officer or employee.
History of FOIA
The Arkansas FOIA was enacted 46 years ago after a push by a coalition of citizens and journalists and the support of then-Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. The bill passed the House and Senate without a dissenting vote. Rockefeller later recalled that passage of the FOIA was one of the most significant achievements of his administration.
The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the FOIA months later after a court challenge. In its opinion, the Court said: “We have no hesitation in asserting our conviction that the Freedom of Information Act was passed wholly in the public interest and is to be liberally interpreted to the end that its praiseworthy purposes may be achieved.”