Survey: Online Availability of Safety Records in Arkansas Lacking

Arkansas state agencies are doing a better job than most at making government records available online, but safety reports and consumer information are still lacking, a nationwide survey found.

Arkansas is also without a statewide database that tracks government expenditures – and a bill that could change that has languished in the Legislature this year.

In preparation for Sunshine Week – a national initiative to discuss the importance of freedom of information – a survey was developed to determine how accessible government information is in each state.

Arkansas was ranked 16th, along with Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, based on how many of the 20 assessed categories were readily available online. The only state to provide all 20 was Texas.

One of the areas emphasized in the study was the creation of a government spending database – with only half of the states providing one online. A bill by Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, to create such a database has generated little interest.

Another bill by Greenberg, which would guarantee a public employee’s right to make Freedom of Information Act requests, was approved by the House last week. It now goes to the Senate.

In other areas found to be lacking, several types of safety reports tended to be unavailable online. School inspection and safety records, along with school bus inspections, were not available online. The parent of a school-age child might also want to check on bridges their child’s bus might cross, but bridge inspections and safety reports weren’t found online, either.

While maintaining that the safety of the structures and vehicles is paramount to providing online updates, it is still part of the state Highway and Transportation Department’s job to make the records available, Peltz said.

In addition, consumer complaints and gas-pump overcharge records weren’t found online by searchers.

The national report was the first comprehensive survey of its kind, developed to promote discussion throughout Sunshine Week, which runs through Saturday.

The survey found that the data least likely to be found were death certificates and gas pump overcharge records, while the majority of states readily supplied Department of Transportation projects and statewide school test data.

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