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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January 21, 2015 12:16 PM

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced the availability of a free, online class on the state’s transparency and public record laws.

The classes have been available as in-person lessons since 2011, but a demand for remote training prompted the office to offer them online.

“As we’ve conducted these training sessions and answered emails and telephone calls — from the public, the media, and even representatives from state and local government — we’ve been reminded that many interested individuals aren’t necessarily able to travel and attend a three-hour course on Ohio’s Sunshine Laws,” DeWine said in a press release. continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 1:09 PM

The Tech Center at Oyster Point development was promoted as a critical economic development initiative with the potential to create a good many jobs. Its construction will radically change one of the most prominent intersections in Newport News. And ushering it to completion will require a substantial public investment by city taxpayers.

The newspaper continues to ask questions about the project and expects Newport News officials to be open and transparent in response.

So although this editorial board has been a proponent of the effort, we have to wonder: If it's such a good idea, why does the city administration get jumpy every time a reporter asks about it? Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 1:02 PM

Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law changes to the Freedom of Information Act. That’s the law that allows people to access government records — everything from how much the mayor makes to police reports to information on your local school district.

Any Freedom of Information Act request — or FIOA — comes with a cost. Whoever files the request has to pay for the time it takes the government agency to gather the information and the cost to get it to them.

Previously, the public body decided the price. But the new law creates rules to prevent the government from overcharging and keeping information from people who ask for it. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:56 PM

IN EARLY December, President Obama announced a series of measures aimed at closing the gap between citizens and law enforcement. One of those measures was a plan to distribute $263 million in funding for agencies to purchase body cameras that can be used during police interactions with citizens.

Immediately, there was discussion among my counterparts in other states about whether video captured by the cameras would be subject to release under state public records laws (in Virginia, it’s called the Freedom of Information Act). On one side is the need for public accountability, on the other side are privacy concerns for victims, witnesses and informants (certainly there are other issues on both sides, but for now, those are the two biggies).
In Seattle, instead of gathering talking heads like myself in a room to hammer out statutes or regulations, the police department there convened a “hackathon” to figure out a technological solution. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:50 PM

People seeking to request open records from state agencies can now go online to do so.

State administrators opened the Open Records Portal at http://openrecords.utah.gov last week in an effort to make it easier for residents to identify which agency is responsible for which records and to submit a request.

Developed in response to legislation passed last year, the portal was created by the Department of Administrative Services, Division of State Archives, with consultation from the Utah Transparency Board. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:44 PM

Seventeen organizations that support open government in Virginia have formed a coalition to increase transparency in the General Assembly and foster greater citizen participation.

The coalition, called Transparency Virginia, wants legislators to give more advance notice of committee and subcommittee meetings and to record the votes when panels quietly kill bills.

“Citizens who want to testify on bills need lead time so they can plan child care or days off from work to travel to Richmond,” said Megan Rhyne, director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. When committees and subcommittees call or cancel meetings quickly and with little notice, she said, it’s hard for citizens to participate. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:34 PM

It’s show time again in Springfield, and the supporting cast is the same as last year — more than a hundred Democrats who maintain veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

But there’s a new star, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who enters stage left with a fresh script that promises to replace “business as usual” with fiscal and ethical reform.

Act I will focus primarily on the state’s financial crisis — a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, stacks of unpaid bills, a broken tax system, and an unresolved pension crisis. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:47 PM

Public records will become cheaper and easier to access under changes to Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.

Government agencies will not be allowed to charge more than 10 cents per page for copies of public records; they can face increased fines for delaying responses, and people seeking the records now can sue if they consider the fees to be exorbitant.

Dirk Milliman of the Michigan Press Association said the changes have been years in the making and involved compromise, but, overall, the new law increases transparency and access to public records. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:42 PM

Following a 2014 decision concerning the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the S.C. Supreme Court, exempting autopsy results from the information available to the public, Sen. Larry Martin is looking to change legislation.

Martin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will also be chair of a subcommittee that will be debating a change to the legislation of record, putting in place measures to insure “the public’s right to information,” albeit with some restrictions applied to protect the privacy of individuals.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision, as the FOIA laws read in South Carolina presently, has made autopsy reports inaccessible, Martin explained the problem began long before 2014. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:36 PM

Government transparency doesn't mean much if it is costly to obtain government information.

Michigan's Freedom of Information Act was marred by that obstacle. The law's intent — to make information accessible to the public — was undermined by the officials of government and other public organizations who demanded excessive fees to provide it.

Worse, if members of the public and the press successfully challenged those costs in court, they still came up short. If the fees were overturned, the plaintiffs still were stuck with the legal expenses. The agency that lost the court decision wasn't required to pay the court costs. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:28 PM

A good government is one that responds to the wishes of the public. But the public cannot know how responsive its government is when much of what government does lies outside public view. Hence the need for transparency, the handmaiden of accountability.

A new coalition, Transparency Virginia, has been formed to monitor and improve openness at the state level. It will focus on the sometimes overlooked mechanics: meeting notices, ensuring that all bills get heard, and the recording of votes in committees and subcommittees.

All three are important; the last element deserves special mention. For years the House of Delegates has shanked important legislation — such as that regarding nonpartisan redistricting — in unrecorded subcommittee votes, leaving the public to wonder which members tried to save it and which plunged in the knife. No wonder voters are cynical. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:17 PM

Visit a municipal clerk's office and you will likely hear griping about the Open Public Records Act.

"We hate OPRAs here," a Kearny clerk's office employee muttered to a reporter for The Jersey Journal picking up a request for a list of all town salaries.

OPRA, enacted in 2001 by the state Legislature to replace the old Right to Know Law, allows anyone to fill out a form and receive certain public documents within seven business days, usually with the clerk acting as a go-between. Continue>>>
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