- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

The governor of Arkansas and four of its leading lawmakers refused to disclose weekly schedules and emails The Associated Press requested as part of a nationwide transparency project.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Republican and Democratic party leaders in both houses of the state Legislature cited exemptions in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when turning down the requests, even though the AP did not invoke the law when making them.

Ahead of Sunshine Week, a time set aside to celebrate access to public information, the AP asked top lawmakers and governors in all 50 states for copies of their schedules and emails from government accounts for the week of Feb. 1-7. The AP received more denials than approvals from officials throughout the country.

In Arkansas, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram and Republican House Speaker Jeremy Gillam each turned down the AP requests in short order. In a letter sent through U.S. mail, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office also declined to make public his schedule and emails.

Rep. Michael John Gray, the Democratic minority leader in the state House, did not reply to the AP’s request until after the AP contacted a House spokeswoman Saturday.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act exempts the correspondence of the governor and state legislators from public access, despite the act’s expressed intent to allow Arkansas residents to track the performance of officials “in public activity and in making public policy.”

Knowing of this exemption, the AP asked simply for the information without citing the law. Each of the four cited the FOI law’s exemptions when denying AP’s requests.

Members of the Arkansas Legislature are not required to carry out official business from a publicly hosted email account. Some members use personal accounts for public business and their own private affairs.

Dismang’s contact page on the Senate website lists a Gmail-hosted account.

“It does complicate things because, again, we’re part-time legislators and there is a constant tug-of-war between our personal lives, our business lives and our legislative lives,” Dismang said. “It’s pretty difficult to separate those things if you’re talking about the calendar, or talking about emails or whatever it may be.”

There are other reasons to keep legislative correspondence private, Dismang said. Some constituents wouldn’t want their emails to their state representatives made public, for instance.

The Legislature, which receives one of the open-records law’s oldest and broadest exemptions, usually entertains proposals each session to add more exemptions. Tres Williams of the Arkansas Press Association said his organization employs lobbyists to discourage the practice.

“Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act is considered to be one of the strongest in the country,” Williams said. “It’s just that we have to constantly fend off attempts to water it down.”


Houston reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press reporter Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report from Little Rock, Arkansas.


Follow Daniel C. Houston on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Daniel_Houston

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide