FOI Advocate News Blog

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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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April 16, 2015 1:27 PM

The state has found that the City Council did not violate Open Meeting Law when meeting in private about a $68 million power plant lawsuit.

The Attorney General’s office ruled last week that the council appropriately entered into executive session last winter to discuss the federal lawsuit and the possibility of a settlement.

In 2012, developers of a 350-megawatt, gas-fired plant proposed for the south side of Brockton sued the city and several current and former officials, claiming they denied the developers' due process and civil rights when trying to construct the plant. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:19 PM

Congratulations! You were one of the biggest winners of the first big deadline for bill passage at the Nevada Legislature.

How, exactly? By retaining your ability to review government records, which are the work product of your tax dollars.

Legislation not declared exempt had to pass its committee of origin by Friday. Hundreds of bills died last week when they were rejected or ignored by lawmakers. Thankfully, among those fatalities were a handful of bills that would have greatly weakened public access to government documents and made it much easier for bureaucracies to avoid accountability. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:15 PM

A bill to update Maryland's public information act is heading to the governor's desk.

The General Assembly passed the measure on Monday in the waning hours of the 2015 session.

Among the changes to the Maryland Public Information Act, which hasn't been updated since 1970, the bill creates a five-member compliance board to address fee disputes, and establishes an ombudsman position to handle disagreements between government agencies and members of the public attempting to access records. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:09 PM

The issue of requiring police officers to wear body cameras, which is getting increased attention in light of several high profile deaths of African-American males at the hands of police officers across the nation, landed before the Legislature Monday.

But the policy discussion wasn't about state funds available for body cameras or mandating the use of the new technology. The first bill up for discussion before the House Judiciary Committee is one that would exempt some body-cam footage from release under the state's Freedom of Information laws.

The bill has created some unlikely allies. State Rep. Jim Runestad, the sponsor of the bill and a conservative Republican from White Lake, and Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the ACLU of Michigan, both testified in support of the legislation. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:06 PM

These days, the S.C. House Republican and Democratic caucuses enjoy the use of rent-free office space in a taxpayer-funded House building on the State House grounds.

That alone would classify those caucuses as a “public body” under the state Freedom of Information Act, according to a 2006 formal opinion issued by then-S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is now, by virtue of his position as lieutenant governor, the Senate president.

Being defined as a “public body” under the FOIA generally requires having open meetings, and allowing the public to inspect and receive copies of records. Continue>>>
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April 16, 2015 1:01 PM

Months after a teenager was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer, the city is still refusing to release the dash-cam video of the fatal shooting and didn’t even show it to aldermen Wednesday before they approved a $5 million settlement with the family.

The October 2014 shooting death of Laquon McDonald hasn’t generated the same kind of national attention as other recent high-profile confrontations involving officers. After some, in such places as South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona, video was released that quickly went viral.

In approving a settlement even before McDonald’s family filed a lawsuit, some members of the Chicago City Council disagreed on whether releasing the video could spark the kind of angry protests seen elsewhere. While Danny Solis said making it public could “fan the flames,” fellow Alderman Howard Brookins said fear of demonstrations or riots shouldn’t drive the decision. Continue>>>
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April 15, 2015 1:41 PM

The Office of the Solicitor General has unreasonably refused to turn over records concerning a speech by an OSG official that allegedly conceded misrepresentations by the office in two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases involving Native American tribes, according to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed Friday in D.C. federal court.
The suit, lodged by the California Indian Law Association, centers on a 2011 speech by then-Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who allegedly gave an “apology or confession of error” concerning the pair of decades-old high court cases at the Federal Bar Association’s Indian Law Conference in New Mexico.

CILA issued a FOIA request in August 2011 for background information on the speech, such as drafts or internal discussions, but OSG responded with only a handful of heavily redacted documents and emails, according to the suit. Continue>>>
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April 15, 2015 1:39 PM

 A Champaign County judge has set a June hearing for a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the University of Illinois by a professor denied a job at the school.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1IIeH2F ) Champaign County Judge Thomas Difanis on Monday set a hearing for June 12. Professor Steve Salaita and his attorneys filed the lawsuit in November seeking public documents related to his case. The judge in June will rule on motions for summary judgment from both parties.

Difanis said if he doesn't grant summary judgment then he will begin hearing arguments immediately. Continue>>>
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April 15, 2015 1:34 PM

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she will hold a statewide tele-town hall meeting to educate the public about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Rutledge released the following statement:

“Arkansas has a strong FOIA that is regarded across the country as one of the best at holding government accountable and helping citizens stay informed. As the people’s lawyer, I am committed to protecting the democratic ideal of an open and transparent government and helping educate Arkansans about the FOIA. I am excited to use technology in an innovative way to help bring Arkansans closer to their government.”

The statewide tele-town hall will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. For those interested in participating, please sign up by emailing foia@arkansasag.gov with your name, telephone number and city. Continue>>>

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April 15, 2015 1:31 PM

The Obama administration, which has pledged both to embrace transparency and promote scientific integrity, continues to tightly control journalists’ access to federally employed scientists, a survey of reporters found.

Nearly 59 percent of respondents “feel that the public is not getting all the information it needs because of the barriers that agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices,” according to the survey released April 9 by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Almost three quarters (74.2 percent) of the reporters said that they are required to obtain public information officers’ approval before interviewing employees at least some of the time, and 52.2 percent said that when they ask to interview a specific subject matter expert, the PIO routes their request to a different agency employee at least some of the time. In comments, reporters added that this different employee was “more likely to give the answer the agency wanted the reporter to get,” Carolyn Carlson, a member of the Freedom of Information Committee at the journalists society, told reporters at the National Press Club. Continue>>>
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April 15, 2015 1:27 PM

A member of the D.C. Council is questioning plans by the Bowser Administration to keep all footage shot by D.C. police body cameras private.

The plan by Mayor Muriel Bowser's office to keep all body camera footage private first surfaced in language in her Budget Support Act.

If passed, it would keep the public and the news media from being able to request selected footage recorded by police under the Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2015 1:14 PM

Elliot Engstrom, of the Civitas Institute, writing for the Burlington Times News spotlights a real problem the General Assembly should address before it adjourns this year…that of open government, and more specifically the ineffective enforcement of the Public Records and Open Meetings laws. Elliot writes:

Last week, the Civitas Institute dropped our public records lawsuit against the Alamance County Board of Elections and Alamance County attorney. To the credit of the board and county attorney, the entire issue was resolved in less than four months. Unfortunately, this is lightning fast compared to the turnaround time for some state agencies.

Access to public records is a basic requirement of any democratic system. Through public records requests, North Carolina citizens can keep their elected officials accountable by keeping close tabs on the activities of state and local governments. Trust, but verify. Continue>>>
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