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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February 23, 2015 2:00 PM

Illinois State Police investigators interviewed 20 witnesses and reviewed thousands of documents as part of their investigation into the Springfield Police Department's destruction of internal affairs records, newly released documents show.

A seven-page memorandum outlining a timeline of key dates and excerpts of the state police investigation was released to The State Journal-Register on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report precedes the release of an 837-page, partially redacted case file — along with several audio files — that state police plan to release Tuesday. Continue>>>

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February 23, 2015 1:56 PM

For now, the closest thing to an investigation into Gov. Rick Scott's attempted purge of state agency leaders is a lawsuit. Floridians should be grateful for the litigation.

Scott began by forcing out the director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He hoped to continue by sacking the state's top insurance and financialregulators and chief accountant. Scott gave no good reason for wanting any of them gone. But the former FDLE director, Gerald Bailey, went public to say he hadn'tresigned voluntarily. That revelation embarrassed the members of the Florida Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — who had asked no questions at the January meeting when they approved Scott's choice of Rick Swearingen to replace Bailey.

Nor had the publicreceived proper notice of such a change at Florida's version of the FBI. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 1:42 PM

An antiabortion group’s appeal, under the Freedom of Information Act to have access to documents involving a federal grant being awarded to a Planned Parenthood Agency, has been rejected by the federal appeals court.

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded federal grant funds to the Planned Parenthood Agency. The New Hampshire Right to Life subsequently filed a lawsuit, which sought documents related to the award of the grant.

According to the US Court of Appeals document, the District Chief Judge Joseph LaPlante denied the group’s request for certain documents (1). Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 1:38 PM

A Freedom of Information Act complaint has been filed with the Delaware state Attorney General’s Office against the town of Dewey Beach.

Around a dozen property owners say they are not happy with how the resort cut a deal for a contingency contract to buy two properties along Coastal Highway.

The complaint was filed on February 13th and includes former Commissioner Joy Howell. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 1:34 PM

The federal government needs a new Freedom of Information Act champion.

Following the November retirement of Office of Government Information Services Director Miriam Nisbet, the office in charge of monitoring governmentwide FOIA compliance and policy is looking for a permanent replacement.

The job was posted today, and it’s of critical importance to both how the government releases information and records as well as how federal agencies share information with the public. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 1:27 PM

Deep in the bowels of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget is language to exempt research done by the University of Wisconsin System from the state’s open records law, unless it is published or patented.

This blanket exemption would spare the UW from needing a good reason to deny access to these records, as current law requires. Instead, universities could categorically spurn inquiries from citizens, media and even lawmakers looking into controversial research, potential threats to public safety, conflicts of interest or how tax dollars are spent.

Two prior attempts to exempt records of campus research, in 2013 and 2014, failed because Republican lawmakers refused to go along. “It clearly needs more discussion,” a UW lobbyist conceded after the second failed attempt. But now Walker has revived the idea in his budget, with little to no discussion having taken place. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:23 PM

A Saginaw County judge has approved a motion from the Michigan Attorney General's Office allowing the state agency to get involved in a case about the release of the names of approximately 100 Oakley Police Department reserve police officers.


Assistant Attorney General speaks in support of motion in Oakley reservist FOIA lawsuit
"Under the general village law act, there's no contemplation of phantom philanthropists who declare themselves as justified as serving as members of a general law village's police force," Assistant Attorney General John Szczubelek said during a Feb. 17 hearing in Saginaw County Circuit Court.
The Attorney General's Office, representing the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, submitted the motion last week that states reservists do not meet standards published by MCOLES to be considered police officers under the village law act.

That means the reservists' names cannot be withheld under the law enforcement exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, Assistant Attorney General John F. Szczubelek said before Saginaw County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kaczmarek on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:22 PM

The South Carolina House has given key approval to a bill that creates a new court to handle disputes over how government agencies handle open records requests.

The bill approved 90-16 on Wednesday would cut the amount of time agencies can take to answer a request for public records to 10 business days. It also would require agencies to post fee schedules to assure they are not trying to block requests by charging excessive money for copying and research.

The new Office of Freedom of Information Act Review would decide whether Freedom of Information Act complaints should be sent to an Administrative Law judge. If an agency breaks the law, it would have to pay damages. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:09 PM

Congress came tantalizingly close last year to passing a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which allows journalists and the public to access federal government records. The legislation, which would have brought more transparency, was blocked in December when the House speaker, John Boehner, refused to hold a vote on the Senate bill with no explanation. Two months later, lawmakers have a second chance.

Both the Senate and the House have bills pending that would put into law a “presumption of openness” and a rule against withholding information absent “foreseeable harm” to protected government interests — two things the Obama administration called for in 2009 but failed to carry out.

Both bills would both impose a 25-year limit on the withholding of documents that the government asserts are part of an internal deliberative process; there is no limit in the current law. The bills would allow more room for judicial review of whether a record request was properly denied and also give the public easier access to records that are released. Frequently requested records would be made available online. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:02 PM

Starting this summer, most public bodies in Michigan will be somewhat more accountable, a bit more transparent, in allowing people to discover what they do and how they do it.

The so-called Freedom of Information Act — so-called because it’s studded with exceptions and doesn't apply to the legislature or courts — was modified during the just-ended legislative session to give people a bit more leverage to press government for information.

The changes are designed to curb abusive fees and encourage prompt compliance with the law, according to an analysis by Butzel Long, the First Amendment attorneys for the Michigan Press Association. And while the law firm's FOIA highlights were designed for the journalists, it's important to remember that FOIA isn't just a press issue. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 12:55 PM

Carolina Public Press is at it again, continuing to foster a more well-informed region, with its newest initiative. Open WNC, which Executive Director Angie Newsome says she hopes to launch in July, aims to give readers and citizens of Western Carolina easy access to public documents, data and records.

The project is still seeking partners throughout the region.

More from CPP: Carolina Public Press is pleased to announce that it is working to launch a regional open government, data and records project called Open WNC. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 12:44 PM

The First Amendment Foundation is pleased to announce it will award George Gabel of Holland & Knight its 2014 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award.

“George Gabel is always there to stand up in court on behalf of the Sunshine laws and the First Amendment. George has been our legal champion for many years, as we worked to pry open public meetings, liberate public records and ensure the court system is open to the public,” said The Florida Times-Union Editor Frank Denton in his nomination letter.

Gabel has been involved in First Amendment, media law, and open government issues throughout his career. His recent victory in Brown v. Denton ensured the public involvement in what had been a secret mediation. The Jacksonville City Council rejected the proposed pension plan that was negotiated during the mediation. The city then negotiated a new pension plan in public as required by law. Continue>>>
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