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 12, 2016 8:17 PM

Imagine you live in Flint, Michigan, and it’s been your home for years.

You’ve just learned the drinking water the town has supplied for the past couple of years has been contaminated with lead. Yes, the water you used to shower and wash your dishes, the water your children drank and used to brush their teeth, tainted. 

You want answers. Frankly, you deserve answers. Everyone deserves answers.

Now it’s January 2016. Imagine as your local paper and TV news stations try to dig deep to find out what and how things went wrong by filing open records requests, the government comes back to those outlets and essentially says, “Sorry! Any emails before Sep. 1, 2015, were automatically deleted.” 

You may still get answers, but likely they’ll always be incomplete. That didn’t happen in Flint, but could unfortunately happen all too easily at Colorado’s state agencies. Continue...

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February 12, 2016 8:08 PM

Back when Terry Mutchler was spending late nights at The Daily Collegian or rushing across campus to make an 8 a.m. class, she never imagined she would someday return to speak at Penn State.

On Wednesday, the 1993 graduate, an expert in open government and freedom of information matters, returned to do just that.

Mutchler leads the transparency practice at Philadelphia’s Pepper Hamilton law firm. The firm is at the center of document issues in multiple lawsuits related to the Jerry Sandusky case.

She focused her speech not only on the need for transparency in government, but also on the occasional benefits of confidentiality. She said nothing is wrong with privacy when it is warranted. Continue...

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February 12, 2016 7:56 PM

After a runaway oil train killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just miles from the Maine border in 2013, Mainers demanded to know more about the state’s railways.

How much oil was moving through Maine? Which companies shipped it and along what routes? Was the government doing enough to keep communities safe?

At about the same time, the rail industry began its own campaign to keep much of that information secret, according to interviews and correspondence with regulators. Continue...

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February 12, 2016 7:51 PM

Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow them access to documents from closed John Doe investigations involving Gov. Scott Walker.

The bill would create a legislative committee with oversight of law enforcement, granting it subpoena power and the ability to access records from secret John Doe investigations once closed.

There have been two John Doe probes involving Walker, one looking into whether his aides engaged in illegal campaigning when he was Milwaukee County executive, the other examining whether his recall campaign in 2012 coordinated illegally with outside conservative groups. Continue...

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February 12, 2016 7:48 PM

Houston authorities declined this week to open up their case files on Victor Reyes, a Mexican national with a long criminal record whose 2015 shooting spree killed two and wounded three before he was killed by a police officer.

The move by Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman highlights the veil of secrecy hanging over the files of foreign nationals convicted of crimes — including the so-called “worst of the worst” that immigration authorities say remain a primary focus for deportation.

Reyes had been removed from the country four times. Federal authorities have also declined to release the deceased killer's full immigration history file to The Texas Tribune. One of Reyes’ shooting victims, John Weston of Houston, recently told the Tribune that his family “never got any satisfactory answer” from government authorities about Reyes, who shot him in the face and left him seriously injured.

“It was almost like it was top-secret information,” he said. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 7:01 PM

Civil liberties advocates say one of two proposals to regulate police body cameras in Utah this year would give law enforcement too much leeway and would exempt videos of fatal shootings from open records laws.

The proposal, from Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, makes body camera footage a private government record if it shows "images of nudity, death or gruesome events," or was recorded while an officer is serving a search warrant or needed permission to enter a private location.

Police would be allowed to release the record if they felt there was a broader public interest to do so. If they still decline, someone requesting the video would have to appeal to the state's public records committee or a judge.

Neither bill has had a hearing yet. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:57 PM

A school discipline reporting bill cleared the House Education Committee on Wednesday, despite concerns it would limit the ability of community organizations to obtain data needed to analyze factors contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Jim Freeman, executive director of The Grassroots Action Support Team, testified that HB 16-1098 would make it harder for groups such as Denver-based Padres & Jóvenes Unidos to find out how many students enter the juvenile justice system because of offenses committed at schools.

The bill is a follow up to 2015 legislation intended to improve the reporting of school safety and disciplinary violations. Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, said this year’s measure clarifies that information related to expunged juvenile delinquency cases can be released to the state Division of Criminal Justice for research purposes. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:48 PM

Michigan's top law enforcement official says the governor's office should no longer be exempt from public-records requests.

Michigan is one of just two states with a blanket exemption for the governor and the executive office from open-records requests. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said Tuesday the "reset button has been pushed" because of crisis over Flint's water being contaminated with lead, and he is hopeful that lawmakers will broaden the law. 

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder - who has apologized for the crisis - has voluntarily released his personal emails from 2014 and 2015 related to the water emergency, but not correspondence among his staff. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:44 PM

A four-page bill is causing a stink in Cincinnati. It's a back-and-forth battle about parents’ right to know versus private schools’ right to independent operation.

The bill would require private schools to publish some information on their websites, including enrollment and financial data. Other information – reading lists and school bylaws, for example – would have to be accessible to parents of enrolled students.

“Transparency is the only thing that’s going to save us,” said Rep. Thomas Brinkman, Jr., R-Mount Lookout, the bill’s primary sponsor.

Opponents have a different take. Continue... 

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February 11, 2016 6:38 PM

Attorney-client privilege is a near-sacred pillar of our legal system. It protects disclosure of legal communications, specifically excluding attorneys from being compelled to testify regarding most client communications in any legal proceeding.

Regrettably, some state agencies are inappropriately manipulating attorney-client privilege as a shield against public disclosure laws. Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:55 PM

Two Phoenix lawmakers outlined proposed legislation Monday that they said would increase police transparency, accountability and trust in the community. 

Rep. Reginald Bolding and Rep. Ken Clark, both D-Phoenix, were quick to praise police officers, even as they proposed the new oversight measures.

"I have a great amount of respect for the women and men who put their lives on the line every single day," Bolding said at a news conference. "The majority of officers operate with distinction and integrity. But a few bad apples have continuously tainted the law-enforcement community and the relationships with those they serve." Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:52 PM

Across the nation, this seems to be a year in which not just distrust but outright contempt for government is driving the body politic.

For both major political parties, perceived outsiders are at or near the top of the polls after months of campaigning and one state caucus. A national average of public opinion polls shows less than 30 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction while more than 63 percent say it’s headed in the wrong direction.

Hawaii isn’t exempt from this general feeling of angst and dissatisfaction. Continue...

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