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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May 13, 2017 12:36 AM

The Virginia General Assembly will stream some committee meetings over the Internet next session, a milestone for a body that has resisted this sort of technology.

The Senate announced its plan Thursday to stream from two main committee rooms next year, and the House followed up with an announcement from Speaker of the House William Howell that the chamber has worked toward committee streaming "without fanfare for the last several months."

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May 13, 2017 12:36 AM

With looming deadlines threatening to kill a slew of proposals aimed at bolstering access to public records in Texas, a state senator on Thursday muscled them closer to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk — all at once.

Sen. Kirk Watson’s maneuver came as senators took up an open records bill that had already cleared the House: Watson and Rep. Eddie Lucio’s House Bill 2328, which would give government entities — with employees trained in open records law — an option to expedite information requests under Texas public records law.

Watson attached, through floor amendments, key provisions from several other transparency bills (some of them his own) that had languished in the House Committee on Government Transparency and Operation, chaired by Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston.

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May 12, 2017 1:07 AM

An 18-month push to update Colorado’s open-records law for the digital age culminated Wednesday in the final passage of a bill that clarifies the public’s right to copies of electronic government records in useful file formats that permit analysis of information in those records.

Senate Bill 17-040 heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk after passing the House on a 39-26 vote and then repassing the Senate unanimously, all on the last day of the 2017 legislative session.

The measure is intended to bar government entities from providing printouts of databases and spreadsheets when people ask for public records kept in databases and spreadsheets. No longer will governments be permitted to provide searchable records in non-searchable formats such as image-only PDFs.

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May 12, 2017 1:07 AM

A group of government watchdogs sent a letter to Congressman Jeb Hensarling Tuesday afternoon urging him to rescind the letters he sent government agencies informing them about Freedom of Information guidelines.

Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, sent letters in April to the heads of several federal agencies the House Financial Services Committee oversees, declaring that communications and documents produced between the two offices will remain in the committee's control and will not be considered "agency records" — therefore exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Twenty organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Campaign Legal Center — signed on to a letter calling Hensarling's actions "a troubling precedent."

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May 12, 2017 1:07 AM

Crucial details about the location and depth of certain California water wells can be kept secret, and out of the hands of an environmental group, a top federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Although targeting a specific request for California information, the ruling by what’s sometimes called the nation’s second-highest court could shape at least a few of the other Freedom of Information Act requests nationwide. More than 700,000 FOIA requests were filed in Fiscal 2014, and the question of what can be denied recurs often.

Tuesday’s unanimous decision lumped water wells with those drilled for oil and gas production. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the water well information fits under a long-standing exemption to FOIA. The decision thwarted AquAlliance, the Chico, Calif.-based group that sought the information.

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May 11, 2017 12:50 AM

Legislation to modernize Colorado’s open-records law underwent a significant makeover Tuesday night with a little more than a day left in the 2017 session.

The Colorado House gave preliminary approval to a completely reworked, shorter version of Senate Bill 17-040 designed to satisfy both records requesters and the government entities that have opposed the measure.

While the bill no longer references “structured data,” it is still intended to clarify the public’s right to obtain digitized government records in useful file formats that make it easier to analyze the information contained in those records.

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May 11, 2017 12:43 AM

At least three federal government agencies have agreed to seemingly conceal official communications with a congressional committee from public information requests, following letters sent last month by the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, sent letters in April to the heads of several federal agencies his committee oversees, declaring that communications and documents produced between the two offices will remain in the committee's control and will not be considered "agency records" — therefore exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The Committee expects that the [government agency] will decline to produce any such congressional records in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act or any other provision of law or agreement," the letter reads in part.

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May 11, 2017 12:43 AM

The Florida First Amendment Foundation worked hard throughout Florida's legislative session to advocate for open government and freedom of information. They just released their final report for the 2017 session, which can be found with their weekly reports.

The reports can be found here.

May 9, 2017 11:12 PM

Optics aside, Greitens isn't the only governor connected to supportive nonprofit organizations.

Groups in Arizona, Illinois and Georgia have sprung up to help the states' governors, while avoiding traditional donation requirements. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics said the groups are the "unlimited, undisclosed arm of the administration that basically ... bolsters the agenda of the governor."

Many 501(c)(4)s were created over the years to help push specific issue or ideological causes. But more recently, the state-based nonprofits came to life to help individual candidates. Since most states don't require 501(c)(4) to reveal much about what they're doing, they've become increasingly popular fundraising mechanisms to help governors.

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May 9, 2017 10:46 PM

In the first study of its kind, we used the Obama administration’s White House visitor logs from 2009–2015 to identify 2,286 meetings between federal government officials and corporate executives from S&P 1500 firms. We found that money can buy you greater access to the White House, and that for corporations, that access translated into big returns on Wall Street.

Our findings also underlined a simple fact: Without transparency from the Obama administration, we would have never known any of this. And lacking that transparency from the Trump administration, the American people will be left in the dark while many insiders profit from their White House meetings.

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May 9, 2017 10:42 PM

Tuesday morning is a significant moment in the long history of making the spending of the United States government more transparent to the American public.

On May 9th, federal agencies will officially begin reporting data in compliance with the open standards created under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the landmark legislation that cleared Congress in 2014. (It’s called the DATA Act, for short, which is how we refer to it today.) The data will start flowing to openbeta.USAspending.gov in the coming days and will eventually be transitioned to USAspending.gov, the long term online home of federal spending data.

In doing so, our government will give citizens, watchdogs, Congress and federal workers unprecedented public access to structured information about spending and open up new horizons for oversight, accountability, activism and innovation.

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May 8, 2017 11:22 PM

More than 2.7 million criminal records will be sealed and the arrest records of hundreds of thousands of people will be concealed under a bill heading to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

An open records advocacy group is sounding the alarm and calling for Scott to veto the bill, warning it could hide the backgrounds of dangerous people.

The bill, if signed, would automatically administratively seal court records of nearly anyone who is found not guilty or is acquitted during a trial or has the charges dropped or dismissed. Charging documents could still be obtained from the courthouse where the charges were filed, but the charges won’t show up in a background check through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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