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 9, 2017 8:30 AM

South Carolina legislators this session will again attempt to pass legislation aimed at reforming the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which regulates public meetings and the release of public records. S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and S.C. Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, pre-filed a FOIA bill in the House, and Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, has filed a similar Senate bill.

This is the fourth term Taylor has introduced his bill, he said at a legislative workshop Thursday. Taylor’s bill would adjudicate FOIA disputes in Administrative Law Court and shortens a public body's response time to requests from 15 to 10 days, but gives governments more time to produce records.

The law would redact a dying person's last words from 911 recordings. Dash cam video would automatically be public information, but police can apply to circuit court to prevent disclosure. The FOIA bill died last session, and was held up by a minority report. Senate rules allow lawmakers in the minority party to stall bills by issuing a minority report. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 8:26 AM

The city of San Diego used to have a performance measure for its handling of public records requests.The Human Resources Department, which processes such inquiries, listed “percent of public records act requests completed within mandated timeline” as a key performance indicator in city budgets. In 2013, about 75 percent were completed in the required 10 days. The measure increased to 84 percent in 2014 and 85 percent in 2015.

The figure has not been updated more recently. Measurement of progress on this metric halted earlier this year, when the city rolled out “NextRequest,” an online portal for residents to request city government documents. The new online tool was touted as part of a transparency push.

The online records portal is powered by a San Francisco-based vendor of the same name, at a cost to the city of $22,400 per year. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 8:22 AM

Frustrated at being stonewalled on getting records on the activities of Troy’s city manager, a city resident has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the city. Ann Erickson Gault wants disclosure of public documents she requested regarding City Manager Brian Kischnick. The lawsuit, which was assigned to Oakland Circuit Judge Nanci Grant, not only seeks the requested documents about his city-owned vehicle and other matters but also the awarding of to-be-determined damages, including attorney fees, for allegedly violating the state’s open records law.


The News reported in July how Troy officials said questionable practices by Kischnick – including an unreported accident with a city vehicle – had been quietly scrutinized for over two months. After receiving a report, the City Council said in July that all matters had been resolved, including Kischnick’s agreement to reimburse the city for $1,000 to cover an insurance deductible for repairs caused by an unreported traffic accident involving a city-owned Jeep he was driving. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 8:18 AM

Dozens of Montana legislators, the governor and several top staff members often use personal email accounts to discuss government business, a practice criticized nationwide for circumventing public disclosure and threatening security. The recent presidential election put unprecedented focus on the use of personal email by government officials. Less attention has been paid to the practice in Montana even though it is widespread.

Until 2015, only legislative leaders were offered emails at mt.gov. About one-third of legislators continue to use personal accounts as their primary or sole legislative email. A records request released last year showed that Gov. Steve Bullock and several top staff members use personal accounts to conduct some state business. Montana has no plan to retain emails from personal accounts even if they contain discussions of state business. State policy also does not require employees or elected leaders to use government accounts exclusively. Similarly, other forms of personal electronic communication — such as texting and social media messaging — are not retained even though many elected leaders say they use the tools on the job. Continue…
 

email, Montana
January 6, 2017 1:23 PM

Police body cameras would restore public trust, proponents said. They would infuse transparency into the murky, complicated human interactions in which officers daily find themselves, they promised. They would be a hard defense against police abuse, they swore.

So many promises. So little transparency to see it through. In the past two years, proponents of body cameras – often police departments themselves – made a lot of promises about the expensive, potentially invasive technology. But as last week’s denial of a Freedom of Information request by the city attorney in Bettendorf, Iowa proves, the promise of body cameras hinges on Iowa lawmakers’ commitment to presumed transparency. Continue…

January 6, 2017 1:20 PM

A pair of lawmakers filed bills Tuesday to lift the curtain of secrecy on taxpayer funds spent by private companies and organizations that was allowed by separate Texas Supreme Court decisions. The bills by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, would overturn provisions sanctioned by the high court that allowed final contract details and bids on public contracts to remain secret. The bills also would require disclosure of funding details to private organizations and entities in all cases, not just those sustained by public funds.


In separate rulings, the Texas Supreme Court earlier allowed the Greater Houston Partnership to keep secret details about the public funding it receives, and exempted the release of some details of a lease between the Boeing Co. and the Port Authority of San Antonio because the aerospace manufacturer said making the details public could tip off its competitors. Read more…
 

January 6, 2017 1:18 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has faced congressional hearings and secret government sanctions over its sloppy lab safety practices, is keeping secret large swaths of information about dozens of recent incidents involving some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria and viruses.


CDC scientists apparently lost a box of deadly and highly-regulated influenza specimens and experienced multiple potential exposures involving viruses and bacteria, according to heavily-redacted laboratory incident reports obtained by USA TODAY. Several reports involve failures of safety equipment. In one, a scientist wearing full-body spacesuit-like gear to protect against lethal, often untreatable viruses like Ebola, had their purified air hose suddenly disconnect — “again” — in one the world’s most advanced biosafety level 4 labs. Read more…

CDC, virus
January 6, 2017 1:11 PM

A group is rallying in support of the Fort Smith School Board after a lawsuit was filed against them. It states that members of the board violated the Freedom of Information Act through emails. The group is called “Stand with the School Board,” and they want to see the board fight the lawsuit in court. “This isn't the first time we've heard this song from Joey McCutchen,” Luke Pruitt said. “Joey's first lawsuit in 2015 accusing the board of violating the Freedom of Information Act was dismissed in court and was ruled frivolous.” Read more…

Arkansas, FOIA, school
January 2, 2017 10:51 AM

Not a single email is stored in the state archives, even though Montana leaders have used them to conduct state business for decades and state law requires emails of importance to be preserved.

The mass and routine deletion of emails gained attention in campaigns nationwide this fall. In Montana, Republicans centered attacks on the realization that no emails existed from Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock’s term as attorney general. But the problem is more widespread. “It’s all over the place,” Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said of the way the state currently manages records. “State law is being violated.”  Read more...

January 2, 2017 10:42 AM

New laws aimed at government transparency, landowner protection and banned activities took effect in New Hampshire on Sunday. Political committees are now required to file donation reports during off-election years to give citizens more opportunities to see who is giving money to politicians. A new law also outlines legal actions landowners can take if someone pollutes their land with hazardous waste. And shining a laser pointer at a plane, selling synthetic urine or engaging in bestiality are now officially banned in the state.
The more sweeping pieces of legislation, such as continuing Medicaid expansion and providing more money to fight the state's drug addiction crisis, took effect months ago.
A look at the new laws:  Continue...

New Hampshire
January 2, 2017 10:34 AM

Here's a New Year's resolution for North Dakota lawmakers: Pass transparency provisions for political campaigns as well as state and local governments.

The time is right. In Doug Burgum our state has a governor who is promising to reinvent government, making it more accessible and efficient. A big part of his pitch is using technology to collect and disseminate public information. The Legislature should take Burgum's rhetoric and turn it into policy. For instance, a revamp of campaign finance reporting is badly needed. There are holes in the data reported—state lawmakers don't have to report the money they spend — and the reports themselves are too few and far between. Read more...

January 2, 2017 10:26 AM

The city of Chicago paid out about $670,000 last year to plaintiffs in lawsuits alleging that officials violated open records law — nearly five times what the city paid in the previous eight years combined.

Experts and attorneys said the mounting payouts in Freedom of Information Act cases raise concerns about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pledge to run "the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen." They said the increase may be attributable to a broader awareness of the public's right to records spurred by high-profile cases such as the Laquan McDonald shooting. More...

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