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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January 27, 2016 7:24 PM

A Georgia public interest law center is looking for ways to improve relations between police and the communities they serve as well as drive down the number of incidents involving police officers' use of force.

The Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is making recommendations that its leaders hope could start becoming law as early as this year.

"Like many of you, probably all of you, following the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in summer of 2014 and subsequent deaths, Georgia Appleseed began to think about what we could do to be helpful, to add value to the process," Rob Rhodes, the center's director of projects told a panel of state legislators. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:18 PM

The group that represents Vermont towns and cities would like to loosen the government’s public records and open meeting laws — but make nonprofit organizations subject to the same transparency requirements as the government.

The group envisions several changes to transparency laws in its 2016 Municipal Policy, the document that guides the group’s lobbying at the Statehouse this year.

“Our overarching goal would be to make both open meeting and public records workable systems for municipalities so that they’re able to comply,” said Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:14 PM

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the fundraising arm of North Dakota State University violated the state’s open records law.

Stenehjem said in a written opinion issued Monday that the North Dakota State University Development Foundation and Alumni Association violated state law when it refused to release the applications for people seeking to become its next president and CEO.

Stenehjem said The Forum newspaper in Fargo requested an opinion from the state after the foundation refused to release the original applications for the positions. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:07 PM

A Colorado state lawmaker is set to bring forward a bill that would block the courts from denying open records requests.

Watchdog.org obtained a draft of the bill by state Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, which would allow court rules to apply only to open records matters not directly covered by the Colorado Open Records Act.

"Under current law, a custodian of a public record can deny inspection if the inspection is prohibited by rules promulgated by the supreme court or by the order of any court," the draft says. "The bill clarifies that the rule or court order must relate to a matter that is not explicitly covered by open records laws." Continue...

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January 26, 2016 4:53 PM

For the first time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has released text messages that show him conducting official business on a city-issued cellphone, a move that comes as he faces sharp scrutiny on what information he makes public after fighting for months to keep the Laquan McDonald police shooting video under wraps.

Emanuel disclosed the text messages in response to an open records request, a decision made as the Chicago Tribune is suing the mayor on the grounds he violated state law by refusing to release emails and text messages sent and received on his personal accounts that pertain to public business.

The mayor's text messages to senior city officials cover a six-day period in late December when a Chicago police officer shot and killed two people on the West Side, including an unarmed mother of five. Continue...

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January 26, 2016 4:49 PM

A legislative proposal allowing Indiana law enforcement agencies to withhold video from police body cameras is advancing unchanged.

The Indiana House rejected on a voice vote Monday a proposed amendment that would have judges release the video unless doing so would increase the risk of harm to someone or prejudice a court case.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Kevin Mahan of Hartford City argued against the change, saying he wanted a process that encourages police agencies to start using body cameras.

The bill currently requires those seeking video to prove that its release is in the public interest. Continue...

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January 26, 2016 4:43 PM

A Wisconsin public interest law firm filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Natural Resources, alleging unreasonably long delays in responding to public records requests.

Midwest Environmental Advocates said in one case it has been waiting for more than 10 months for the DNR to provide records it asked for, although in this case, the firm said it learned recently it had missed a payment deadline for processing the records. In another case, the law firm said it has waited more than seven months for records. 

"We've experienced too many instances where records requests have been unreasonably delayed," Tressie Kamp, an attorney for the law firm, said in a statement. Continue...

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January 26, 2016 4:37 PM

Every Floridian who cares about transparency in public affairs and about keeping government accountable to the taxpayers should be worried about the latest effort in Tallahassee to stifle the state’s public records law.

It’s a head-on frontal attack on the law, although it’s disguised as a mere word change in the existing Sunshine statute. The relevant wording states that a judge “shall” award attorneys fees when citizens win a lawsuit over a public records request that was wrongly denied. 

The amended version, however, would change that to “may,” allowing a judge to deny legal fees to anyone who has carried out a public service by obliging a public official or agency to produce a public record. Continue...

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January 26, 2016 4:33 PM

Chicago just launched a new website called OpenGrid, which is the city’s attempt at parsing the avalanche of data it’s been collecting for the past five years.

OpenGrid is a more usable evolution of the city’s Data Portal, a bare-bones website that hosts all of the publicly available information, which includes everything from building permits to noise complaints to city employee salaries (surprise: this is the most popular data set).

OpenGrid was developed over the past six months after Chicago government officials kept hearing that the data sets were too unwieldy to make use of. Continue...

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chicago, opendata, OpenGrid
January 25, 2016 7:10 PM

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has two legislative proposals this year that can remove recent tarnish from Washington state government’s once sterling reputation for integrity and ethics in government.

The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan organization that grades states for ethics, gave Washington a D-plus grade this year, down from past years.

Washington has already taken steps to improve its grade. Last year, the Legislature provided funding for a searchable lobbyist database for the state Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates campaign and lobbying spending. But that funding to dramatically improve public access to lobbyist spending details came after the center’s report period ended in March.

Ferguson’s proposals tighten the ethics rules and could raise the state’s grade. Continue...

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January 25, 2016 7:05 PM

In early 2013, after two women died after abortions and the state began enforcing new rules for providers, activist Andrew Glenn sought to inspect applications to operate abortion clinics in Maryland.

While information on doctors and medical practices is typically made public and often posted online, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said no to Glenn, regional director for the Maryland Coalition for Life. The state argued that the potential risk of violence against abortion providers justified shielding their identities, and that releasing the names would result in fewer doctors providing the procedures. 

The case is now before Maryland's highest court, which heard arguments earlier this month. Continue...

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January 25, 2016 7:00 PM

John Gregg, the Democratic candidate for governor, is calling for greater government transparency in a policy proposal announced Monday.

“While this governor would have created a taxpayer funded propaganda machine to control what information reporters and the public have access to, I want to throw open the doors of state government,” Gregg said in a release.

Gregg's open government initiative includes a four-part plan. Continue...

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