Arkansas Senate OKs FOI Exemption for Accident Reports

By ANDREW DeMILLO | March 14, 2013

The identities of minors involved in motor vehicle accidents could not be released to the public under an exemption to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act that the state Senate unanimously approved Tuesday.

By a 35-0 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would require police departments to redact the names and addresses of children under the age of 18 from motor vehicle accident reports. The measure would allow departments to release the information to parents and legal guardians. The measure now heads to the House.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams said he proposed the exemption after being approached by parents in his district whose children were involved in a minor school bus accident. He showed a copy of a letter they received from chiropractors that were sent to them in the days following the accident.

“It has to do with parent’s rights,” Williams, R-Cabot, said before Tuesday’s vote. “You’ve got to ask the question does the parent have that right to protect the identification of their kids?”

A spokesman for the Arkansas Press Association said the group opposes the change, which he says will weaken the state’s 46-year-old law protecting public access to meetings and records. Tres Williams, the association’s lobbyist and communications director, said the group had offered a compromise proposal that would have prohibited the use of information about minors from being used for commercial solicitation but kept the records open to the public.

“I personally think the use of those records for the commercial solicitation of minors is deplorable,” he said. “It’s the fact that we saw a way to do that to accomplish the prohibition of that activity without marring the freedom of information act.”

Williams, the lawmaker behind the bill, said that the parents who had contacted him didn’t want the information available to the public at all.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said the Democratic governor was neutral on the proposal but will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The proposal is among several new aimed at restricting information that can be released under Arkansas’ FOI that are gaining support in the state Legislature. Lawmakers last month approved legislation that made secret the names of 130,000 Arkansas residents permitted to carry concealed handguns.

Other measures pending in the Legislature include a proposal to exempt most records and meetings regarding school safety procedures from the FOI law.

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