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 17, 2017 11:06 PM

A wage-theft transparency measure that died in the Colorado legislature last year passed unanimously Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee.

The amended version of HB 17-1021 is identical to a proposal that earned bipartisan House support in 2016 but was killed in a Senate committee. The bill allows the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose whether an employer has cheated its workers.

Currently, under the state’s interpretation of a century-old statute, wage-law violations committed by Colorado companies must be kept from the public, even after an investigation is over and a citation has been issued.

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February 17, 2017 11:01 PM

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is to hear arguments in a case that could give school boards and other governmental bodies a way around the open meetings law.

The case up for argument Wednesday focuses on whether meetings of a committee created by employees of the Appleton Area School District to review books for use in a ninth grade class should have been open to the public.

More broadly the court will examine whether committees created in the same way that the one in Appleton was brought together allows them to be exempt from the law.

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February 17, 2017 1:40 AM

Missouri corrections officials are not required to disclose the identities of the pharmacists who supply the state’s lethal execution drugs, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Reversing a lower court judge who had ordered the Department of Corrections to reveal their names, the Missouri Court of Appeals found that the DOC did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law by refusing to provide them.

The court cited a Missouri law that gives the director of the DOC discretion to select the members of the execution team, including those who administer the lethal chemicals or gas used in executions and those who provide them with “direct support.” The same law provides that the identities of the team’s members are to be kept confidential.

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February 17, 2017 1:38 AM

Last week, a state commission that advocates for the military dodged a public discussion of a controversial wind-energy project.

In doing so, government-transparency advocates say the panel appears to have violated North Carolina’s open-meetings law.

The Military Affairs Commission chairman refused to allow a scheduled presentation at a committee meeting to proceed because a reporter was present, according to The Carolina Journal, a publication of the conservative John Locke Foundation. The presentation was on a large, nearly complete wind farm near Elizabeth City.

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February 17, 2017 1:31 AM

If your friend asks to borrow money, you may ask them, "What for?" Missouri's Sunshine Law is designed to make sure we, as taxpayers, know what our state and local entities are doing with our money.

Is the law being followed and enforced? In an ABC 17 News Special Report, Marissa Hollowed found your government may be shutting you out.

"They didn't want to turn these records over, so they wanted to make it as burdensome as they possibly could on us," Daniel Kolde told ABC 17 News in his St. Louis office.

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February 15, 2017 6:37 PM

OpenTheGovernment.org and 68 other public interest groups published a letter demanding that the government issue advanced notice before removing information from government websites. The letter also reiterated the need to properly preserve and archive government websites before they are changed.

From the announcement: 

Today, a group of 69 public interest organizations dedicated to open and accountable government, free speech, civil rights, consumer protection, the environment, and other issues called on federal agencies to fulfill their legal requirement to provide the public with adequate notice before removing public information from government websites.

Amid reports that information has gone missing from the US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Education websites, the groups urge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to remind agencies that they are required to give adequate public notice when making significant changes to public information. The letter further calls on agencies to provide the public with appropriate justification in advance of any removal of significant information, as well as instructions on how to access the information once it has been removed from the agency website. 

Read the letter here.

February 15, 2017 6:25 PM

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the only cabinet level agency that was able to meet President Obama’s 2009 instruction to reduce FOIA backlogs by 10 percent per year. Out of the 15 federal departments surveyed, HHS reduced its backlog by 12.7 percent* per year. The average for all federal departments was an 8.21 percent increase. The departments of Homeland Security, State, and Housing and Urban Development are some of the worst offenders, with an average increase of nearly 30 percent per year.

In a 2009 memorandum, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget called for the creation of an Open Government Directive, based on the “principles of transparency, participation and collaboration” to create a more accountable and open government. As part of this Directive, the administration instructed that “Each agency with a significant pending backlog of outstanding Freedom of Information requests shall take steps to reduce any such backlog by ten percent each year.” Holding agencies accountable for their FOIA backlogs, where in some instances requests have gone unanswered for years, was a giant step towards “creating and institutionalizing a culture of open government.”

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February 15, 2017 6:14 PM

Local and state laws regarding what constitutes the public’s domain are about as uniform as a patchwork quilt. And technology -- or a lack thereof -- further contributes to the increasing cost variance between jurisdictions.

New IT software, for the governments that can afford it, has certainly sped up the time it takes to fulfill requests and thus lowered the price of information. But in some cases, technology can complicate matters. This issue is particularly heightened when privacy concerns require time-consuming redaction work.

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February 14, 2017 11:35 PM

A group of local legislators are trying to protect researchers and scientists at the state’s higher education institutions public records requests prior to completing their research. On Tuesday, a bill sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (Dist. 37-South Kingstown, New Shoreham), was heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a companion House bill introduced by Rep. Carol Hagan-McEntee (Dist. 33-South Kingstown, Narragansett), has been held for further study.

The state’s Access to Public Records (APRA) law already exempts ‘preliminary drafts, notes, impressions, memoranda, working papers, and work products’ from requests from the public. Bills S 0177 and H 5098 would clarify the statute to include ‘those involving research at state institutions of higher education on commercial, scientific, artistic, technical, or scholarly issues, whether in electronic or other format.’

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February 14, 2017 11:31 PM

Private email for public business was a front and center controversy during the presidential election.

Now the I-Team discovers some Maine lawmakers routinely bypass the state email server and use their personal accounts for state business, raising questions of transparency and accountability.

Even when they're in session, most Maine lawmakers are never far from their devices and their emails, in constant contact with lobbyists, donors, and their constituents.

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February 14, 2017 11:27 PM

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents have taken possession of seven Public Transportation Commission cellphones as it steps up an investigation into whether public records were deliberately deleted from the devices.

The phones were used by PTC staffers, including former executive director Kyle Cockream.

Billing records show Cockream sent text messages to the owner of a local taxicab firm and PTC board members before Sept. 2.

But those messages — considered to be public records if related to agency business — are missing from his phone.

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February 13, 2017 9:41 PM

When Thadeus Greenson first started investigating a story about the Eureka Police Department, he had no idea what trials he’d face when trying to access information through a video of an officer who arrested a minor.

Greenson, who’s covered the case since 2013, first as a reporter for the Times-Standard and later as the editor of the North Coast Journal, filed an August 2014 request for the arrest video under the California Public Records Act.

Three and a half years later, Greenson has won the James Madison Freedom of Information Award in the Professional Journalist category from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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