HomePoliticsArkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs law restricting release of her travel...

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs law restricting release of her travel and security data

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law Thursday restricting the release of her travel and security data after the Legislature wrapped up a special session marked by a battle to roll back the state’s Freedom of Information law more broadly to screw.

The law, which took effect immediately, allows the state to withhold details about the security provided to the GOP governor and other constitutional officials, including who travels on state police planes and the cost of individual travel. Proposed changes to the 1967 law that protects public access to government documents were among the topics Sanders placed on the agenda for a session held this week.

Sanders has argued that the restrictions are necessary to protect her and her family, citing the threats she has faced since taking office dating back to her time as White House press secretary for former President Donald Trump.

“We protected the police officers who protect our constitutional officers and my family by keeping their security information and tactics free from Freedom of Information Act disclosure,” Sanders said before signing the measure, about two hours after lawmakers gave it final approval.

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Sanders and Republicans in the Legislature had initially pushed for more widespread exemptions to the open records law, but backed away after facing mounting criticism that it would undermine government transparency.

Some opponents of the proposed broader exemptions for other government agencies initially supported the legislation after it was reduced to the safety measures. But criticism continues that it will keep the public in the dark about how taxpayer money is spent.

Democratic Rep. Andrew Collins said protecting the governor and her family is a good reason to exclude certain documents from release, but that this should only be done to a limited extent.

“But I don’t think this is being drawn as narrowly as possible,” said Collins, who voted against the bill.

Sanders requested the security waivers because the state police were being sued by an attorney and blogger who accused the agency of illegally withholding data about the governor’s travels and security. But Matthew Campbell, who runs the Blue Hog Report website, asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit after Campbell said he tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to attend a hearing scheduled for Thursday. Campbell posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he may refile the lawsuit.

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The new law requires the state to submit a quarterly report to the Legislature detailing monthly costs for governor protection by category. The law is also retroactive to June 1, 2022, a provision that state police said was necessary to protect preparations for whoever would become the next governor after that year’s party elections.

Supporters of the bill say the governor’s higher profile has increased the security risk she and her family face.

“Not to offend any of our previous governors, at least in recent memory, I can’t think of one name that was as household a name as our current governor,” Republican Rep. David Ray told the House before the vote. members of the House of Representatives.

The broader exemptions originally sought sparked outrage from media groups, transparency advocates and some conservatives who said it would create huge holes in the state’s public records law.

Sanders left open the possibility of seeking other changes later, which she said are needed to improve government efficiency.

“We will not stop fighting for greater efficiency and effectiveness in government, and I believe this is just the beginning of that process,” Sanders said.

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David Couch, an attorney who has spearheaded successful ballot initiatives on medical marijuana and the minimum wage, said he is exploring the possibility of a bill that would enshrine the state’s open records law in the Constitution.

“I think it would be overwhelmingly popular,” Couch said.

Sanders signed other measures from the session, including legislation lowering the state’s top individual income tax rate from 4.7% to 4.4% and the corporate rate from 5.1 to 4.8 percent. The legislation also creates a one-time, non-refundable tax credit of up to $150 for individuals and up to $300 for married couples earning less than $90,000 per year. It is estimated that the cuts will cost the state more than $248 million in the first year.

Sanders also signed legislation banning state and local governments from requiring anyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The measure restores a similar law from 2021 that expired last month. Any public entities that require someone to be vaccinated to receive federal funding would have to seek approval from the Legislative Council to receive an exemption under the law.

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