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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July 3, 2017 2:18 PM

Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act leaves the public in the dark when it comes to collective bargaining negotiations, but two state Senate bills could shed some light on these closed-door meetings.

Two Republican senators from Lancaster County have each submitted bills that would change the state’s open records law and open government union negotiations to public review, but local and state officials say the bills would stop talks before they get started.

Senate bills 503 and 504 would require negotiations between unions and elected officials be held in public and allow any documents related to the negotiations available through Right-to-Know requests, respectively. Continue...

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July 3, 2017 2:08 PM

Tech-oriented and data-savvy folks soon will have the chance to dive deep into a new Charlottesville portal that will disclose public information about policing, property, traffic, parks, demographics and the environment.

The launch of the city’s open data portal later this summer is part of an initiative that started last year to make the city government more transparent and encourage the growth of the city’s tech industry.

“This is a really cool project,” Mayor Mike Signer said moments before the council unanimously adopted an official open data policy last month. “This will put us at the leading edge of governments doing this kind of thing.” Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:42 PM

After a two-year effort led by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to release two bills that would update and expand New Jersey’s transparency laws.

One would create a new public finance website for the state as an expansion of the Open Public Records Act and reconstitute the Government Records Council that deals with OPRA complaints (S1046). The other bill would expand necessary notices for public meetings, including more online notification, as an update of the Open Public Meetings Act (S1045).

According to Weinberg, she has been working with a number of stakeholders over the past several years to make changes to the original bills that stalled in committee in 2015. She said that the new legislation reflects compromise between her and groups including the League of Municipalities and the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey. Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:31 PM

The New York Police Department has entered into a stipulation and judicial order that commits the NYPD to complying with requirements of New York’s Freedom of Information Law that it has systematically flouted for more than a decade.

Since 2006, state FOIL law has required government agencies to “accept requests for records submitted in the form of electronic mail and shall respond to such requests by electronic mail,” if requested to do so, to provide responsive records when it’s reasonably able, and to publish on their websites an email address to which records requests can be sent. For more than a decade, the New York Police Department has operated in violation of each of these provisions of state law. But in settling a lawsuit brought by Keegan Stephan, a law student and activist, the NYPD has committed itself to finally bringing itself into compliance. Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:05 PM

A proposed town policy for the release of public information includes a $10 minimum charge for most requests.

The plan will be the subject of a hearing at a July 11 Town Council meeting.

Mount Pleasant's proposed fee schedule for fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests includes the minimum charge for retrieving information and a 25 cent-per-page photocopy fee, both of which Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association and The Post and Courier, found troublesome. The town would also charge for staff time needed to fulfill requests, except in some cases, such as recent police reports requested in person.

"I don’t think you can impose a minimum fee," Bender said. "I also think the 25 cents a page is in excess of the prevailing commercial rate in Mount Pleasant." Continue...

June 29, 2017 1:23 PM

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously sided with open government advocates Thursday in a closely watched case over when meetings should be open to the public.

The court ruled that the Appleton school district improperly closed the meeting of a committee charged with reviewing course material. A parent in the district who had wanted to attend the meetings sued and lost in lower courts before the state Supreme Court sided with him.

"Today's decision reaffirms that the open meetings law is to be interpreted literally in favor of transparency," said attorney Rick Esenberg with the conservative law firm Wisconsin Law and Liberty, which fought the district's decision. Continue...

June 29, 2017 1:00 PM

Attorney General Lisa Madigan today joined with nine other attorneys general to demand information and documents from the federal government concerning the detention and deportation of immigrants following the administration’s executive orders on immigration and reports that show immigrants have been unlawfully detained, causing even greater fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities across the country.

Madigan and the attorneys general issued Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seeking information related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, arrests and detentions of individuals at sensitive locations, including courthouses and hospitals, and ICE or CBP detainer requests and databases.

The FOIA requests were prompted by fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities caused by the executive orders on immigration. Recent reports indicate people in immigrant communities are withdrawing from their communities in an effort to avoid questioning by authorities, including victims and witnesses not reporting crimes or cooperating with law enforcement agencies, parents afraid to send their children to school, and people avoiding necessary medical treatment. Madigan and the attorneys general believe the “chilling effect” of these new policies on immigration undercuts public safety, health and welfare. Continue...

June 29, 2017 12:45 PM

Nearly two months have passed since the state of Michigan received a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the school pension system. Yet the law requires public entities to take no longer than 15 business days to respond to a request.

That delay doesn't break the law because there is a loophole with FOIA: The law does not specify when documents responsive to a request must actually be released.

The public school pension FOIA was submitted by Mackinac Center for Public Policy on May 26. It asked for the ages of school employees who had been enrolled in the system over a five year period. State officials exercised their option to trigger the 5 and 10 day extensions. On June 13, which was 12 business days after receiving the FOIA request, the state asked for a payment equal to half the estimated cost of searching out these records, which was $219. Continue...

June 29, 2017 12:28 PM

The Library of Congress wants to "rewire" how Americans tap into legislative data.

Library of Congress CIO Bud Barton called for citizen developers to unpack the linear legislative process and remake it in ways that improve  access to and understanding of legislation. Speaking at the  June 27 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference, Barton said  that the legislative data application challenge aims to  provide innovation solutions that marry centuries-old data with 21st century technology.

The challenge may result in apps that  change the way legislators do business and provide the public with greater transparency into the legislative process, he said. "It may even provide insights for the people doing the work around the clock, both on the Hill, and in state and district offices," he said. The understanding gained from the apps "could have the power to evolve our democracy," he added. Continue...

 

June 28, 2017 2:48 PM

DeKalb County and the cities within it may not have independent websites for government transparency — such as the site recently created by the city of Atlanta — but they are utilizing a variety of tools to keep their communities involved and informed.

The city of Atlanta recently approved the creation of a Transparent Atlanta website separate from its official site which will allow constituents to review city revenues, expenditures and all city-related financial information.

In DeKalb, no efforts to create entirely separate websites have been launched to-date. However, the county and local city governments have made a number of improvements to their existing websites to increase transparency and create a more user-friendly experience. Continue...

June 28, 2017 1:50 PM

Gov.  Tom Wolf says he will sign a controversial Senate bill that would limit public access to police footage.

Under the bill, police footage (audio and video recordings from both body cameras and dashboard cameras) would become exempt from the state’s public-records law. That means police departments wouldn’t be required to release footage to those whose request it.

The state Senate passed the legislation without debate in a 49-1 vote Tuesday. Wolf says he will OK the bill despite reservations that it could limit transparency. The governor called Senate Bill 560 an “important first step” because it changes state law to enable police departments to use body cameras, specifically in private residences. Continue...

June 28, 2017 12:39 PM

Valdosta Daily Times Editor Jim Zachary received the Associated Press Media Editors Freedom of Information award for the third year in a row Saturday.

Zachary also received awards for best editorial, bringing home both first and third place.

Managing Editor Kristin Patten received a second-place award for best website in the daily newspaper division. Continue...

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