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 4, 2016 6:19 PM

In a debate that could reshape how the state handles its Sunshine laws, Florida lawmakers are swiftly advancing a bill that proponents say will crack down on “economic terrorists” that are abusing state law by extorting money from governments through frivolous and misleading public records requests.

But opponents say the solution is an overreaction that will “gut” the state’s open records laws and permanently cloud its Sunshine Law tradition.

They warn that the bill removes the only tool the public has to seek redress when government officials violate the state’s public records laws and have offered a compromise that is being rejected. Continue...

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February 4, 2016 6:12 PM

Moroni Alvarez attended traditional public school until fifth grade, when a move placed his family near Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo.

Now seven years later, the high school senior said he appreciates the emphasis on technology, leadership and service at his charter school. But he also acknowledged there are some drawbacks that stem from the school's comparably small student body. "In my class the ratio of boys to girls is like four-to-one," he said. "No. Five-to-one."

Alvarez was among hundreds of charter school students who visited the Utah Capitol on Wednesday in an annual event known as Charter Day on the Hill.

The state's charter school community filled the Rotunda, allowing students, teachers and administrators to meet with their representatives and senators, who are poised to make an investment of more than $30 million in charter education through changes to school funding formulas.

One of every 10 Utah public education students now attends a charter school, and the growth of the alternative schools has driven a debate over how, and how much, charters should be funded. Continue... 

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February 4, 2016 6:06 PM

Legislation to subject Michigan's governor and legislature to the state's Freedom of Information Act could drop as soon as next month, say lawmakers working on the plan.

"I've been working on this project now for over a year and hopefully going to roll it out during Sunshine Week in March," said Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

Michigan's current FOIA law, which allows the public to access documents from public bodies, specifically exempts the governor. In addition, a 1986 Attorney General's opinion exempts state legislators. These factors recently contributed to Michigan ranking dead last in the nation for transparency. Continue...

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FOIA, Michigan, transparency
February 3, 2016 4:44 PM

Flooded with requests for public records, local officials in Washington want to put limits on how much information public servants have to make available to the public.

The concepts have long been enshrined in Washington state law:

  • Information held by the government belongs to the people.
  • Public access to that information is essential to a functioning democracy.

But a parade of local officials called for new limits on that access at a hearing in Olympia on Thursday. They shared horror stories of what they called "abusive," "malicious" and "vexatious" requests for records. Continue... 

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February 3, 2016 4:40 PM

Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer Lisa Siegel was right in calling out UConn trustees and top officials for a closed-door meeting last year to discuss the university's proposed $1.3 billion budget.

Siegel's conclusions are likely to be adopted by the FOI commission when it meets in late February, as well they should. Of course the trustees' budget deliberations should take place in an open meeting where the public and news media can hear, rather than in executive session. It's outrageous that the blinds were pulled and the doors locked on that occasion.

Open budget deliberations should be a given for a public institution that spends tax funds — in UConn's case, large amounts of tax money. Continue...

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February 3, 2016 4:32 PM

The Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association struck a blow for public union transparency Tuesday, allowing the public to attend contract negotiations for the first time. But the public didn't show up.

Besides the representatives on either side of the table at Metro headquarters on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there were only a few spectators, mostly reporters. And people attending the meeting would have had difficulty following the proceedings; talks covered esoteric subjects only insiders would understand.

The negotiations, which involved the union representing Metropolitan Police Department police sergeants, lieutenants and captains went down pretty much how you would expect. Continue... 

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February 3, 2016 4:26 PM

A measure aimed at keeping more information about public employees' pay out of the public eye won approval from a key Virginia Senate panel Tuesday, but the group narrowed the scope of legislation that could have kept secret all information about chemicals used in fracking.

The Senate General Laws Committee's Freedom of Information subcommittee asked for more study of legislation that would give two-thirds of Virginia counties and more than half of its cities twice as much time to respond to FOIA requests.

The public employee salaries bill, SB 202, says governments would not have to release salary or pay information about government employees who make up to twice the federal minimum wage. It bars the release of any database that includes public officials' names along with their salary. Continue...

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February 3, 2016 4:20 PM

Should we charge a toll when a Manchester resident wants to walk into City Hall?

Manchester Rep. Patrick Long wants to increase the cost of open government by allowing public officials to charge people directly for doing their jobs.

HB 1611 would gut New Hampshire’s Right to Know law by adding huge fees for public record requests. Local and state bureaucrats could bill people seeking access to public records for the time it takes to compile those records. If you wanted to review old minutes from your local school board, a municipal employee would estimate how many hours it would take to find them, and make you pay up front. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 4:12 PM

Seeking to strengthen the state’s public records law to provide increased public access to government information, Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has filed a number of amendments to the public records legislation released last week by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the Senate formal session on Feb. 4.

“Civic engagement and the strength of our democracy depend on the public availability and accessibility of information that can foster understanding, inform decisions and empower oversight,” said Tarr in a statement issued Monday night. “Passing strong, workable and practical legislation to modernize and strengthen our public records law is and should be a legislative priority.” Continue...

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February 2, 2016 4:04 PM

Twenty Colorado nonprofits that spend public dollars to serve people with disabilities should be required like government agencies to provide detailed financial records and other information on request, parents and advocates told state lawmakers Monday.

“We’re not asking for more money from the state to care for our son,” said Darlene Beals, mother of 19-year-old Alan, who has Down Syndrome. “We’re asking for tools to check on community-centered boards for services already approved.”

Under SB 16-038, community-centered boards (CCBs) receiving more than 75 percent of their annual funding from public sources would be subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The bill, introduced By Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, also would have the State Auditor conduct performance audits of CCBs at least once every five years. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 3:58 PM

Public meeting agendas in Rhode Island are “often vague, lacking critical information, and at times entirely unhelpful” to residents attempting to participate in their government, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has found.

In reviewing just one week of public meeting agendas, the ACLU of RI discovered numerous violations of a critical portion of the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), and recommended that the law be strengthened in order to adequately protect the public’s right to know.

The ACLU review of the agendas for every public meeting held during the week of October 5, 2015, found that many of them failed to offer meaningful explanations about the items to be discussed. In addition, the state's 48-hour notice requirement was undermined by public bodies’ use of weekends to comply with that timeframe, and served to discourage individuals, and particularly individuals in need of accommodations, from attending meetings. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 3:53 PM

Delaware is redoubling its open data efforts, Gov. Jack Markell has announced. Through the signing of Executive Order 57, the governor mandated the creation of a Data Governance Council that will help executive branch agencies publish their data on the state’s open data portal.

“In today’s technology-driven world, we can do more to improve transparency by sharing non-identifiable public data in a format that is user friendly for members of the public seeking information,” Markell said in a press release. “The Delaware Open Data Portal offers this access in a central location and will facilitate better data sharing and collaboration across public agencies, nonprofits and the private sector to spur innovation and develop applications that can benefit our communities.”

The council is required to issue a public report within six months on its progress and a final plan for statewide open data integration by Sept. 30. Continue...

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