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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March 21, 2017 12:27 AM

Michigan House members on Thursday passed bills that would make the governor, lieutenant governor and the Legislature accountable under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The package of 10 bills — a bipartisan effort — passed unanimously and now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate where its future is not so certain.

Republican Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering and Democratic Rep. Jeremy Moss of Southfield are lead sponsors. They said residents are demanding more transparency following the state's involvement in events like the Flint water crisis and a sex scandal involving two now-former members of the state House.

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March 20, 2017 11:11 PM

In January, CJR contributors published a selection of FOIA best practices, based on an analysis of more than 33,000 such requests. Among a number of conclusions, the analysis showed that individual practices (and the responses to them) can vary widely. I’d emphasize that using the Freedom of Information Act effectively is about more than preparing a request. Rather, it’s about the process: researching the agencies, following up with FOIA officers, appealing denials, and so on.

It’s critical, right now, that we make the best possible use of FOIA. President Trump has spent his first 50 days in office trolling the press, and a Knight study released this week shows that nearly 90 percent of freedom-of-information experts believe public access will get worse under Trump. One way for journalists to protect that access is to exercise the rights that guarantee it. January’s analysis was a step in that direction, gleaning lessons from successful requests. This effort, based on subject-matter expertise, complements it.

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March 20, 2017 12:52 AM

The Senate may take up a bill soon meant to prevent public agencies from deterring open records requests or using them as a revenue source by charging excessive fees.

The bill was scheduled for debate Wednesday afternoon, but was postponed.

Public agencies that testified against the bill have expressed concern it goes too far. But Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, has been pursuing such limits to what government can charge for a few years.

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March 20, 2017 12:47 AM

Getting access to a city of Rochester police report, property record or purchasing data is now a matter of point and click, thanks to a new online process that Mayor Lovely Warren announced Thursday.

An estimated 3,850 open records or Freedom of Information Law requests will come into the city this fiscal year — that's at least one for every hour of business, of every working day. Much of that is pushed through via email messages, file folders and marker pens.

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March 20, 2017 12:44 AM

Thirty-two area public agencies were among 357 across the state issued citations last year for not fully complying with Ohio’s public records laws, according to the state auditor’s office.

Some had up to four citations, including the Springfield Academy of Excellence, which was shut down by the state in 2015 for other issues. Other entities with more than one citation include the Butler County Agricultural Society and village of Harveysburg.

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March 17, 2017 1:10 AM

From the press release:

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is shining more light on the federal government by increasing transparency of public records.

Tester introduced the Public Online Information Act, which will make all public records from the Executive Branch permanently available on the Internet in a searchable database at no cost to constituents.

Tester's bill, which covers all documents generated, updated, or released after the bill's enactment, would also establish an independent, bipartisan watchdog to issue guidelines for making public information accessible online.

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March 17, 2017 1:06 AM

When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966, it was envisioned as a tool for journalists to facilitate government oversight and accountability. Although the FOIA is still generally thought of in this way, inextricably linked to the news media’s role as government watchdog, this view bears little resemblance to the reality of how FOIA is used today.

Nowadays, journalists account for only a small share of FOIA requests (just 7.6% by the estimate below). Since it was enacted, the FOIA’s user base has evolved to encompass a diverse ecosystem of organizations, entities, and individuals who use FOIA for a wide variety of reasons. Its users include lawyers, nonprofits, academic researchers, hospitals, political committees, hedge funds, government agencies, private individuals, and many others.

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March 15, 2017 10:49 PM

In “Forecasting Freedom of Information,” the work of University of Arizona associate professor of journalism David Cuillier, a survey of 300 people–journalists, advocates, record custodians, technology companies, scholars and freedom of information experts–revealed lengthy delays, ignored requests, excessive fees and, in many cases, an unwillingness to consider producing government records because of outmoded technology.

Find the full report here

March 15, 2017 10:47 PM

The Obama administration in its final year in office spent a record $36.2 million on legal costs defending its refusal to turn over federal records under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data that also showed poor performance in other categories measuring transparency in government.

For a second consecutive year, the Obama administration set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn't find a single page of files that were requested.

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March 15, 2017 10:41 PM

Over the past two months, Sunlight has been quietly tracking whether open government data has been removed from the Internet under the Trump administration, responding to widespread fears of its removal.

[Sunlight Foundation] joined the Transparency Caucus in Congress this winter to talk about bipartisan efforts to restore public trust and the importance of preserving open government data. 

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March 14, 2017 3:43 PM

When Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and members of the state’s House of Representatives recently demanded that records relating to one of the biggest and most publicized loan investigations in the state be made public, it was an early Sunshine Week gift for the public and especially for advocates of open government.

The 38 Studios case had been in the news for close to seven years and was costing taxpayers $75 million in loan payments. However, open government advocates railed against the continued closure of the investigation into the case, and apparently both the governor and state legislators were listening, which isn’t always the case.

The House recently passed a bill that would make all records, including grand jury documents, open to the public. The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill. Members of the House said the bill “sends a message to the public that no one is trying to hide anything.” About the same time, Gov. Raimondo announced that she plans to ask the court to release all documents gathered during the investigation.

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March 14, 2017 3:39 PM

Emails of public officials are open for inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act, depending on their content. Such messages can reveal important insights into how government decisions are made, but using CORA to obtain emails can be a frustrating and sometimes futile exercise because records-retention policies tend to be vague and discretionary.

The Sheridan clerk’s response to Houston’s records request highlights an all-too-common scenario: Emails can vanish with the click of a mouse, and the cost to recover them can be prohibitively expensive in some government jurisdictions, especially smaller ones with modest budgets for information technology.

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