FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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February 16, 2015 11:11 AM

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions – and fails to function – by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn’t because agencies invoke one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security. Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “inter-agency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. ...

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos – written by policymakers during the decision-making process – to those less than 25 years old. Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 11:05 AM

College environmentalists are using public records laws to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of an economist at the University of Kansas (KU) who has spoken out against wind subsidies, according to his attorney.

Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the university, found himself at the center of an environmentalist campaign after testifying to the state legislature that Kansas should do away with green energy quotas in the spring of 2014. Shortly after his testimony, Schuyler Kraus, a KU student and environmentalist, submitted a public records request demanding all of his email correspondence dating back to 2004.

“In light of recent testimony made by Dr. Arthur P. Hall in favor of S.B. 433, an effort to repeal Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standards, Students for a Sustainable Future (SSF) endeavors to bring KU students and Kansas citizens greater transparency regarding Dr. Hall’s background, connections, and affiliations to disclose significant conflicts of interest,” the records request begins. “The processes by which Dr. Hall and others were hired at KU were orchestrated by Charles and/or David Koch.” Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 11:03 AM

Controversial professor Steven Salaita will be able to pursue his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the University of Illinois for refusing to release documents about his case.

Champaign County Judge Chase Leonhard on Friday rejected the university's motion to dismiss the case, but he also agreed to strike portions of the complaint outlining the circumstances and fallout from the UI's decision to withdraw its job offer to Salaita.

"This is not a political arena" but a FOIA case, Leonhard said in issuing his order. "We're not here today on the merits of any claim." Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 10:45 AM

The state health agency is using a law backed by the Jindal administration to conceal its recommendations for $600 million to $700 million in budget cuts.

State Department of Health and Hospitals officials said the public will know where the reductions will be made on Feb. 27, when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office submits the proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

DHH denied a public records request by The Advocate for a copy of budget options the agency submitted to the governor’s budget arm. The options were submitted in response to an administration directive to prepare for state funding cuts of $200 million to $300 million. With the federal matching funds state dollars attract, the cuts escalate to $600 million to $700 million. Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 10:42 AM

People say they want government to run more efficiently, like a business. What happens when governments are tested the way businesses are?

Mystery shopping is part of the business world. Customers secretly test a business as mystery shoppers, then grade the results.

The Dallas Morning News committed a team of six journalists for a year to mystery shop 113 branches of government on how well they followed the state’s vital open records law. Continue>>>
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February 16, 2015 10:33 AM

The state attorney general has issued an opinion clarifying how the public can access mug shots of people who have been arrested – an issue raised by the Daily Press last fall when it took months of requests to different agences to obtain a booking photo of a former police chief.

In the opinion, released earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says local law enforcement agencies must release mug shots from arrests if they have them.

However, he specifies that booking photos stored in a state criminal history database fall outside Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 1:23 PM

More than a month ago, the Democrat and Chronicle filed what seemed like a simple records request with the city of Rochester. The newspaper asked for records of ticket sales, concessions and team contracts (read: leases) that would spell out revenue sharing and use terms for Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial.

We had written about these matters before, and getting the records never had been an issue. There were reports on how the Amerks, in the years before being sold, had begun giving away tickets to prop up falling attendance – ultimately giving away 50,000 more tickets than they sold during the losing 2007-08 season. During lease negotiations, we detailed how concessions revenue is divided as the teams argued for more.

The city budget annually reports the city's cut in aggregate. Getting the detail behind those numbers is important, particularly given that the city-owned facility relied on $1.7 million in hotel/motel and property tax subsidies this year. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 1:20 PM

Carolina Public Press is pleased to announce that it is working to launch a regional open government, data and records project called Open WNC.

The project is made possible in part through a recent $10,000 OpenGov grant to Carolina Public Press from the Sunlight Foundation, which supports “open-source projects and tools [that] are opening up data and government information in innovative ways.” The project was one of eight efforts across the country to recently earn funding from the foundation.

Carolina Public Press, at www.carolinapublicpress.org, is a nonprofit online news service providing Western North Carolina with unbiased, in-depth and investigative reporting as well as educational opportunities to journalists, students and others. CPP’s Open WNC effort will, likewise, improve access to public data in under-served communities throughout the 18 westernmost counties of North Carolina by developing institutional partnerships, creating a government data repository and training journalists and engaged members of the public on understanding public records and open government issues. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 1:14 PM

Four senators have filed papers with a federal appeals court urging judges to force the government to divulge more about the rules it follows when it makes U.S. citizens the target of anti-terror drone strikes.

The filing Wednesday with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan supported arguments made in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The FOIA lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times. It has already forced the release of a heavily redacted 41-page memo. But other memos are sought. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 12:54 PM

Bureaucratic stonewalling erects barriers to the public’s right to know. It also undermines our system of checks and balances and weakens the public’s trust in our institutions of government.

Let’s remember the genesis of our republic. The government works for the people, not the other way around. Foot-dragging subverts transparency and creates a credibility gap.

On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum that said “information maintained by the federal government is a national asset.” Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 11:11 AM

A new law that was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in January will ensure local governments cannot charge excessive fees for requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The bill, which was introduced by Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey, limits the per-page amount a municipality or other public body can charge for documents requested under the act, or FOIA, to 10 cents.

It also adds provisions on how and when labor costs can be charged. Continue>>>
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February 13, 2015 11:07 AM

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions — and fails to function — by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn't because agencies invoke of one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security. Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “inter-agency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. For example, the CIA invoked that exemption to deny a request for release of a 30-year-old internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos — written by policymakers during the decision-making process — to those less than 25 years old. Continue>>>
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