Online publisher and State Rep. Bryan Shupe is sponsoring legislation that would limit the governor’s powers in curbing freedom of information (FOIA) requests during states of emergency.
Shupe, R-Milford, is sponsoring House Bill 203. The proposal would prohibit the governor from suspending it during a state of emergency unless he or she demonstrated that complying with the act would prevent, hinder, or delay state action needed to cope with the crisis.
The bill has no Democrats as co-sponsors.
According to Shupe, his measure is a reaction to the governor’s suspension of FOIA “I believe it is when we are in times of crisis that we most need full and complete access to information,” he said.
The suspension was lifted after eight months. The rationale for the decision was the need to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic at a time when many state workers were operating from remote locations.
Shupe also criticized legislation recently introduced in the Senate. Senate Bill 155 would allow government agencies to deny FOIA requests if state officials believed the requests were “unreasonably broad, unduly burdensome, abusive” or intended to “disrupt the essential functions of the public body.”
He said the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville), contains no definition of its key terms and could easily be abused by state officials looking to avoid disclosing potentially damaging or embarrassing data.
Critics claimed that citing outrageous examples of FOIA requests was a cover for limiting the timely release of information. Also criticized were fees that, according to FOIA advocates, would discourage inquiries.
Backers of the bill denied that fees would increase.
Following opposition from open government groups, Gay indicated via social media and press releases that the bill would be placed on hold due to the need for a full discussion.
Shupe is CEO of the DelawareLive, network an online media company with sites that include DelawareLive, TownSquare, and MilfordLive, a news website co-founded by Shupe.
The Live sites are now owned by supermarket executive Chris Kenny, who also founded A Better Delaware, a Republican-leaning public policy group.