WASHINGTON —The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation to reform and update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, chairman of the committee, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, a member of the panel, introduced the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 (“OPEN Government Act”) earlier this year. The bill contains key reforms to update and strengthen the FOIA.
“Last year, this committee favorably reported an essentially identical bill but the full Senate did not consider this legislation before it adjourned last year. This year, I hope that the Senate will do its part to reinvigorate FOIA by promptly passing this bill,” said Leahy, a longtime champion of open government laws. “Open government is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. It is an American issue.”
The OPEN Government bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, the committee’s ranking member; Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-GA, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD.
“During the Committee’s hearing on this legislation, we learned that the Freedom of Information Act remains an indispensable tool in shedding light on bad policies and government abuses. But, today, FOIA also faces challenges like never before,” said Leahy. “More than a year after the president’s directive to government agencies to improve their FOIA services, Americans who seek information under FOIA remain less likely to obtain it than during any other time in FOIA’s 40-year history.”
The OPEN Government Act would:
• Restore meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;
• Impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing statutory deadlines;
• Clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors;
• Establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and,
• Create a FOIAOmbudsman as an alternative to costly litigation.
The OPEN Government Act was first introduced in 2005 by Leahy and Cornyn as part of the first ever National Sunshine week. This bill, if enacted into law, would be the first update to FOIA since the 1990s. The House of Representatives passed a similar bipartisan FOIA reform bill, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007, H.R. 1309, in March.
BURLINGTON — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington announced that it had reached a pre-trial settlement in a civil suit in which the plaintiff alleged a priest had molested him back in 1971.
The $135,000 settlement was reached in the case of Neil Morrissette, a Newport man who alleged that Rev. George Paulin sexually abused him when he was 13. The alleged abuse took place at the St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.
This settlement will be paid from financial reserves, and will not affect the charitable agencies and services of the diocese, said Bishop Salvatore R. Matano. No money raised through the annual Bishop's Fund appeal have been or will be used for settlement of lawsuits, he added.
The bishop also asked members of the diocese to pray for the victims of sexual abuse.
“I am deeply concerned that our brothers and sisters scarred by sexual abuse will not abandon the faith and that the trust they once placed in the Church, so severely damaged by the sins of some, will one day be restored,” Matano said in a statement.
Last year, the church settled in the case of Michael Gay, a South Burlington man who alleged that Rev. Edward Paquette sexually abused and exploited him from the time he was 10 until he was 12 while a member of Burlington's Christ the King Catholic Church. But the diocese offered Gay a $965,000 settlement just hours before a jury was to hear opening arguments in April.
The diocese faces additional lawsuits against Paquette as well as other priests.
Posted April 13, 2007