FOIA Alert Volume 4
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 2 May 96 20:06:41 -0700
Subject: FOIA Alert Volume 4
Forwarded-by: Society of Professional Journalists <spj@LINK2000.NET>
Society of Professional Journalists/FOI Alert
From: Kyle E. Niederpruem, FOI Chairwoman
Part I: A legal assault on DMV legislation
Bill Loving says he's only practicing what he preaches.
As an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, he often tells
his students about the value of the First Amendment.
Loving is now suing the federal government in a pro se lawsuit over the
convoluted Driver's Protection Agency Act (part of the Boxer-Moran stalking
bill passed by Congress).
Most media folks and media lawyers have shied away from offering Loving
any support, either financially or through amicus briefs. They worry that
perhaps Loving's challenge will result in a ruling that could set a bad
precedent to an already bad law.
Loving obviously doesn't see it the same way. ``The government goes not
have a right to close these already public records,'' he said.
Loving, who has a law degree but isn't licensed to practice law in
Oklahoma, said he is challenging the law on several grounds.
He argues that the Department of Justice has no right to criminalize the
use of personal drivers license information which the law does with
significant penalties. ``I limit it to my ability as a private citizen to
use the information,'' he said.
He also argues that the public will no longer be able to receive
information about how the government operates.
Loving said the act provides for disparate treatment, providing for
commercial users to get the information while at the same time prohibiting
those with a public interest (like journalists).
To inhibit speech, Loving said the government must prove that it has a
significant interest to do so -- like the security of the nation.
``I sue because it needs to be done. It's difficult for me to tell
students they need to fight for the Constitution and I would sit idly by,''
The act, which takes effect in September 1997, will make disclosure of
personal information illegal. States have been passing opt-out legislation
in a patchwork quilt of laws across the country to keep most of their
records open despite the federal law.
New Mexico was one of the first to do so.
An opt-out law will give individuals the right to ask that their records
be kept confidential.
So far, no one has convinced any state officials to challenge the law
based on 10th Amendment grounds. There has been much talk in Tennessee and
South Carolina but so far little action. Media lawyers believe that a 10th
Amendment challenge over states rights could be the best attack.
For now, Loving is in federal court by himself. The court has a deadline
of June 3 for the government to file its response.
H.H. Herbert School of Journalism and Mass Communication
The University of Oklahoma
Part II: How to stop veggie libel in its tracks
Wisconsin State Sunshine Chair J.J. Blonien knew something was wrong
when he caught this too cute headline on a state representative's news
release in October: ``Spurious Speech Spoils Squash.''
Veggie libel legislation was on the move.
But Blonien is pleased to report that the bill died in February.
``These bills are sneaking through,'' said Blonien. ``The Farm Bureau is
very smart attaching these to other pieces of legislation.''
Blonien said he even invoked the Mad Cow disease to get legislators to
pay attention to him as he started working the phones. He threatened to
bring broadcasters and print media to committee hearings. And he told them
it would be all too easy to make the argument that legislators were
conspiring to prohibit the release of information that could cause death or
injury to consumers.
Though legislators offered a ``media exemption'' to the libel bill,
lonien wouldn't budge in his opposition.
Veggie libel bills started sprouting in states after a controversy over
On Oct. 2, 1995, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
unanimously dismissed a lawsuit brought against CBS by apple growers in
Washington State who claimed that a 1989 ``60 Minutes'' broadcast warning of
the potential health risks from the chemical spray Alar was false.
Environmentalists called it a landmark ruling (especially since much of
the report was based on a Natural Resources Defense Council report called
Veggie libel bills were aimed at silencing reports by making persons
liable for damages if statements about food safety weren't based on
``reliable scientific facts or data.''
Blonien warns that all state SPJ chapters should be looking for these
bills in their states and nipping them in the bud early in the legislative
``It's easier to kill a bill when you hit it early on,'' said Blonien.
Wisconsin State Sunshine Chair
© 1996 Peter Langston