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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May 21, 2015 9:47 AM

AUSTIN — Texans are likely to get greater access to campus police records and public meetings online.

But after a group secretly taped lawmakers in Austin, some are wary of legislation that could make it harder to record audio without the consent of all recorded.

A variety of bills still in play in the final days of the legislative session will affect government transparency, and so far, major legislative efforts are falling on the side of open government.  Continue>>>

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May 20, 2015 12:48 PM

In 2004, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 59, one of the most far-reaching government openness laws in the nation. Its premise was that government agencies, when facing requests for official records, should err on the side of disclosure, not secrecy. The law requires laws to “be broadly interpreted to further the people’s right to access government information,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office noted.

If there is a more ignored state law than Proposition 59, we are unaware of it. Recent Union-Tribune Watchdog coverage has shown state agencies obstructing attempts to get basic public information about still-unfolding scandals. Continue>>>

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May 14, 2015 2:12 PM

Everyone in Springfield seems to know how to spell “transparency,” but hardly anyone seems to know what the word means.

That sad fact recently reared its head when officials in Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration said they wouldn't reveal who is involved in a series of high-level talks about some of the governor's most prized pet issues, ranging from his controversial plan to allow local right-to-work zones to an overhaul of state spending.

"They are private meetings," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly told Kurt Erickson of the Lee Enterprises' Springfield Bureau. "They are private discussions that we're keeping confidential to protect the process." Continue>>>
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May 13, 2015 10:21 AM

A bill introduced in the Michigan legislature seeks to keep information secret about oil and gas pipelines, high-powered electrical lines and other key energy infrastructure.

The bill from Republican state Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth would exempt from disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act any information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure that "could be useful to a person in planning an attack," the Detroit Free Press reported.

Heise said the aim is to keep such information out of the hands of potential terrorists. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2015 1:14 PM

Los Angeles County unveiled an open data website last week that provides public access to millions of county records.

The county is the latest municipality to join an open data movement to make government records easily accessible to the public online. The City of Los Angeles launched a similar data portal in 2013.

“Our Open Data initiative represents a tangible milestone in the county’s determination to provide new levels of transparency and accountability in a digital age,” Interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamai said in a statement. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2015 1:12 PM

At least 29 states post financial disclosure reports for lawmakers and other public officials on the Web, making it easy to see their investments and potential sources of conflicts with a few clicks. Most other states make the filings readily available for free to those who show up in person.

But not Massachusetts, which has set up a virtual gantlet to see the filings, even though the whole point of collecting the financial information is to inform the public.

In this state, residents must first show a photo ID and fill out a written request. And they are warned that a copy of the request will then be forwarded to the public officials to let them know who peeked at their filings. Continue>>>
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May 7, 2015 11:27 AM

Florida lawmakers approved 13 new open-government exemptions and re-enacted seven existing exemptions during the annual legislative session that ended last week, according to the First Amendment Foundation, which tracks the issues.

The bills included exemptions (SB 200 and SB 7040) for:

- Email addresses held by county tax collectors and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Continue>>>
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May 6, 2015 12:57 PM

Deficiencies in the city’s public records process stem from inefficient processes, a lack of understanding of open records laws by citizens and city employees, and “a growing distrust between the public records staff at various levels of city government and the local media,” according to a new report.

In 2009, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton issued an executive order to make city government more transparent, "based on the understanding that the city of Memphis belongs to the public and to achieve the open government we desire and the public deserves."

In March, Wharton asked Mike Carpenter, executive director of the Plough Foundation, to conduct an independent study of the city’s public records system. In an April 30 letter to the mayor, Carpenter said that “a healthy tension between government and the media is expected and beneficial. However, when that ‘push and pull’ becomes an authentic tug of war, citizens and the processes suffer.” Continue>>>
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May 6, 2015 12:53 PM

Shortly after his re-election to a second term last November, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined a number of state officials and legislative leaders in signing a Freedom of Information Pledge for open government.

This document affirms that “a successful democracy requires open, transparent, and accountable government,” and those who penned their names promised to support the independence of the state FOI Commission.

The governor’s signature was especially welcomed by the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and other open-government advocates who hoped it demonstrated a change of direction for an administration often criticized for withholding information from the public and for giving short shrift to state watchdog agencies. Continue>>>
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May 5, 2015 1:07 PM

When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revised its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations last month, it adopted language that might inflate requesters’ FOIA costs across all agencies. Fortunately, its rule is not the final word on what a requester lawfully can be charged to compel prompt disclosure of unclassified federal records.

Legislative background and hierarchy

Believe it or not, and contrary to much popular belief, FOIA was not a creation of the Johnson Administration. DOJ v. Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press lays out the law's actual genealogy most concisely: Continue>>>
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May 5, 2015 12:57 PM

State Treasurer Dennis Milligan has responded to recent news reports on events during his campaign for office by claiming that the emails that are the basis of the reports cannot be verified because his campaign deleted all its emails after the election.

Milligan’s office also instituted a policy last month of requiring employees to delete all emails after 30 days. Officials say the same policy is in place at the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office, and it does not violate any state laws — though critics question whether it is necessary and whether it is consistent with the spirit of open government.

Jim Harris, Milligan’s chief of staff, told the Arkansas News Bureau the treasurer’s office adopted the policy because “after a while your email gets to where it’s a humongous amount of information.” Continue>>>
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May 4, 2015 11:05 AM

While not the only source of open data, government can play an important wider supporting role, no matter who manages or provides the information beyond the General Election, argues Open Data Institute technical director Jeni Tennison.

Government collects, maintains and provides access to a whole range of data. It manages information to aid decision making, including geospatial data, the census and crime surveys.

The day-to-day business of government also produces data, such as spending information, transport timetables or car registrations. Continue>>>
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