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 27, 2015 12:27 PM

The public’s right to know about how executions take place in Texas – including current, controversial secret information regarding the lethal drugs used to administer the death sentence – would be dramatically strengthened under legislation filed on Wednesday, February 18, by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

House Bill 1587 by Canales would require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide details about the names of the drugs used in the lethal injections, along with the identity of their manufacturers, the expiration dates of the deadly concoction, the results of laboratory tests performed on those ingredients, and pertinent information relating to the toxic substance.

“In Texas, we do not give the bureaucrats the absolute authority to decide what the public can and cannot know about what their government is doing,” said Canales. “When it comes to the death penalty, Texans will not allow state government to keep secrets about this drug, which wields the power of life and death.” Continue>>>
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February 27, 2015 12:21 PM

Many people are aware of the Freedom of Information Act, known by its acronym, FOIA. It’s the kind of thing that might be described as “government trade secrets, inside out.”

In essence, it means that you can get “private” information from the government by filing a request. Think the government has a file on you? Well, you can file and they will tell you if they do or don’t, or that “they don’t want to confirm or deny” the existence of such a file.

FOIA files can be very fascinating to read, and while sensitive information may be redacted, there’s always a certain excitement to reading things that are officially out of the public’s reach. (Think about any email sent to or by a government employee.) Continue>>>
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February 27, 2015 12:15 PM

The village of Oakley has again voted to release the names of reserve police officers.

In a 5-0 vote, with two people abstaining, the Village Council during a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 24, agreed to give out the names.

Oakley's attorney, Richard Hamilton, recommended that the village give up its fight to keep the names of those on its 100-member reserve force secret and disclose the names, essentially ending three outstanding lawsuits. Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:36 PM

A new guide to Tennessee’s open records and open meetings laws should have a lasting impact on good government across our state.

“Keys to Open Government” a 52-page book, was released earlier this month at the Tennessee Press Association’s winter convention. Perhaps no one was waiting breathlessly, but that doesn’t diminish the need for such a resource.

Written by yours truly and edited by my colleague Deborah Fisher at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, “Keys” is a guide we hope will help journalists, citizens and elected and appointed officials navigate the laws designed and enacted to keep government actions open and above board. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 1:00 AM

National Immigration Law Center and other legal aid and public interest groups filed a Freedom of Information Act suit Friday seeking access to records relating to worksite raids led by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to uncover undocumented workers.

The center, along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center, Dolores Street Community Services and National Employment Law Project, allege that ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have failed to adequately comply with an April 12, 2012, written request seeking information regarding the ICE’s administration of its worksite enforcement strategy.

“Having exhausted all of their administrative remedies, plaintiffs are filing the present lawsuit to compel defendants’ compliance with FOIA and the production of the requested records in their entirety,” the lawsuit states. Continue>>>

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February 23, 2015 1:27 PM

Deep in the bowels of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget is language to exempt research done by the University of Wisconsin System from the state’s open records law, unless it is published or patented.

This blanket exemption would spare the UW from needing a good reason to deny access to these records, as current law requires. Instead, universities could categorically spurn inquiries from citizens, media and even lawmakers looking into controversial research, potential threats to public safety, conflicts of interest or how tax dollars are spent.

Two prior attempts to exempt records of campus research, in 2013 and 2014, failed because Republican lawmakers refused to go along. “It clearly needs more discussion,” a UW lobbyist conceded after the second failed attempt. But now Walker has revived the idea in his budget, with little to no discussion having taken place. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:23 PM

A Saginaw County judge has approved a motion from the Michigan Attorney General's Office allowing the state agency to get involved in a case about the release of the names of approximately 100 Oakley Police Department reserve police officers.


Assistant Attorney General speaks in support of motion in Oakley reservist FOIA lawsuit
"Under the general village law act, there's no contemplation of phantom philanthropists who declare themselves as justified as serving as members of a general law village's police force," Assistant Attorney General John Szczubelek said during a Feb. 17 hearing in Saginaw County Circuit Court.
The Attorney General's Office, representing the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, submitted the motion last week that states reservists do not meet standards published by MCOLES to be considered police officers under the village law act.

That means the reservists' names cannot be withheld under the law enforcement exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, Assistant Attorney General John F. Szczubelek said before Saginaw County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kaczmarek on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:04 PM

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 “interagency 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.

On Feb. 5, 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 decisionmaking process — to those less than 25 years old. 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 5, 2015 1:27 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf pledged to be an “unconventional leader,” but one of his first actions in office smacks of an all-too-familiar brand of politics.

He removed the executive director of the Office of Open Records, firing him with Donald Trump-like flair: swiftly and seemingly with little justification.

In a perfect world, this important but relatively new office would remain above the political fray, acting impartially on behalf of all Pennsylvania residents. Its staffers train state government employees to handle Right-to-Know requests for documents and other information generated by the government; it also handles appeals when government officials deny someone access to records that, in many cases, rightfully belong in the public domain. Continue>>>
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