Changes to the Freedom of Information Act good for the public, news media and open government

Changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act benefit the public, news media and open government. This session, legislators crafted H3352 to make all public bodies more responsive to records requests. The bill, signed by Gov. Henry McMaster on May 19, gives the public faster access to an official ruling when a public body either rejects or otherwise fails to satisfy a FOIA request. It also establishes timeframes for the public bodies receiving those requests.

“This legislation is the result of months of work in committee, debate in the House and Senate, and many conversations among the representatives of government, the news media and open government advocates,” said Miriam Hair, executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina that represents all 270 cities and towns. “The final legislation signed by the governor last week is a win all the way around.”

One of the primary provisions of the new law outlines steps that will help public bodies in the stewardship of the public’s resources while granting new certainty to the requester about when records will be available.

For example, public bodies now have 10, rather than the previous 15, days to determine if it can respond to a FOIA request for records less than 24 months old. However, the bill extends the number of days from 15 to 20 that public bodies have to make this determination for records that are more than 24 months old.

Public bodies must now produce requested records within 30 days following its final determination about the availability of the records when they are less than two years old. Public bodies have 35 days for records older than two years.

These new response times also give more flexibility than before, since the law now allows the requesting party and public body to agree in writing to further timeline extensions.

Another provision focusing on good stewardship of public resources permits public bodies to deny and request circuit court review of FOIA requests that they believe are overly broad, unduly burdensome, vague, repetitive or otherwise improper. These and any other disputed requests would go to a circuit court for a determination.

Details of the changes can be found at l.masc.sc/newfoiainfo