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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June 7, 2017 10:37 AM

In a world that is becoming increasingly communicative — where people often receive their news, share news, state their opinions and post pictures with their whereabouts via social media — the lines are perhaps a bit more blurry about how such information can be used.

Last month, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, released a map that details specific cities, counties and law enforcement agencies across the United States that have spent at least $10,000 on social media monitoring software.

All of the data — which comes from public reports, information from the government procurement database SmartProcure, public records requests via the ACLU of Northern California and the investigative news site MuckRock — found that nationwide, at least 151 police departments, cities and counties spent millions of dollars collectively on social media monitoring software. Read more...

June 7, 2017 10:33 AM

Djion Oates was arrested and charged with robbery on his 16th birthday and sentenced to five years of probation. About three years later, he was arrested and charged with murdering a man on MetroLink. But according to the Missouri Highway Patrol’s website, he has been missing since he was 15 years old.

And he’s not the only one whose name appears on the state’s list of missing juveniles who have long since been accounted for either by subsequent run-ins with police, unreported reunions with their families or even death. The list has fluctuated between 370 and 380 missing juveniles throughout the month of May.

Police say parents and guardians are lax about following up when juveniles they report missing are found. Some parents, including Oates’ mother, Lakesha Oates, blame police for not following up with them or filing proper paperwork. Read more...

Missouri, open data, Youth
June 7, 2017 10:27 AM

We hear governments boasting all the time about their transparency websites and there is no question that the material that’s posted on the Internet is generally leagues better than in the past.

But we have a gripe. There is one transparency topic that appears to be in deep decline – the recording of meeting minutes for work that takes place in legislative committee meetings, advisory panels, commissions and task forces.

Meeting minutes are a great source of information for journalists, advocacy groups, government officials and interested citizens. Yet they are staggeringly uninformative; the governmental equivalent of empty calories.

Take a look at the agenda and draft minutes from a California Actuarial Advisory Panel meeting on March 10, 2017 (Read more)

June 7, 2017 10:18 AM

Even with the Freedom of Information Act, requesting government records remains an arduous process—especially compared to the efficiency of the legal world.

Earlier this month, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanding former FBI director James Comey’s notes of conversations with President Trump.

Congress has wide discretion to investigate what it chooses, including the right to issue subpoenas demanding access to potential evidence. But Chaffetz isn’t the only one interested in reading Comey’s notes, which reports have indicated document the president attempting to influence the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference. The American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Privacy Information Center have both filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the documents.

“While we hope that Congress will be serious about its constitutional oversight role, we believe the issues raised by the Comey memos are so vital that the public should have access to them without delay,” wrote Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, in a blog post. Read more...

May 22, 2017 9:58 AM

Given the large shortfall facing lawmakers this year, one might think they would try to reduce potential waste, mismanagement and corruption regarding expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Instead, lawmakers passed a bill that would have reduced oversight of some multimillion-dollar contracts.

Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill recently, and deserves credit for demanding greater accountability in government contracting.

House Bill 1667 would have changed state law so that the “State Department of Education” would be responsible for seeking bids from vendors to provide state tests in grades 3 through 12, and the "Department" would be given authority to “award contracts based on the selected proposals that were submitted.” The legislation repealed language that previously gave the state Board of Education that authority. Read more...

May 22, 2017 9:53 AM

A strong bipartisan majority of Colorado legislators came together during the 2017 legislative session to pass HB 1313 - Civil Forfeiture Reform.

The bill, which adds necessary transparency and due process protections to the asset forfeiture practices of Colorado law enforcement, passed out of both chambers by a combined 81-19 vote and is awaiting signature by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As two of the bill's prime sponsors, Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and I support HB 1313 and urge the governor to respect the will of more than three-fourths of the Legislature by signing it into law.

Colorado's law enforcement can take cash and property from people without charging anyone with a crime - much less securing a conviction - when co-operating with the federal government on investigations.

Law enforcement agencies then get a cut of the proceeds - up to 80 percent - which they can spend in any way they please without a public process. This allows law enforcement agencies to self-fund outside the normal appropriations' process, which by and large is the job of the legislative branch whether it is in state or local governments. Read more...

May 22, 2017 9:47 AM

Oregon state government, agencies and commissions are shelling out hundreds millions of dollars to public relations firms. Eighty-seven state agencies spent $278 million dollars to convince taxpayers to spend more taxpayer dollars on bigger government, higher taxes – and more regulations from 2012 through 2016.

Here’s how the numbers breakdown. Since 2012, taxpayers paid $110 million to employ 303 public affairs employees, spokespeople, advertising, video, print, web, graphic designers, marketing and communications managers. But, it wasn’t enough. The state shelled out an additional $168 million to outside PR and advertising firms. Some of those firms charge fees up to $260 per hour and one company reaped total payouts of $34 million – convincing Oregonians to gamble. Read more...

May 22, 2017 9:42 AM

It took a liberal policy group, ProgressVA, to accomplish through public shaming what good-government advocates in Virginia have failed to accomplish over the years through reasoned arguments and rational discussions: force the Virginia General Assembly to take action that opens up the legislative process.

For years, the Assembly has broadcast floor sessions of the state Senate and House of Delegates, first on a broadcast video feed and, in recent years, in a live stream on the internet. But as any political aficionado knows, the real work of any legislative body takes place at the committee and subcommittee levels — floor sessions are mainly stage shows.

That’s where the commonwealth has fallen short. There is no live or archived video record of the Assembly’s many committees and subcommittees at work. Read more...

May 22, 2017 9:35 AM

Proponents of legislative reforms to improve South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act didn’t get everything they had hoped for in the bill that passed on the last day of the session. But the bill came close, and it should be regarded as a victory for open government and citizens’ ability to gain access to public information.

Another reason this bill is so welcome is that it was more than seven years in the making. South Carolina was at the forefront four decades ago when it first passed the Freedom of Information Act. But in recent years reformers have struggled to fine-tune the law to make it easier for private citizens and the media to challenge efforts by public officials and agencies to conduct their business behind closed doors. Read more...

May 13, 2017 2:36 AM

In what may become a powerful weapon for governments to use to block people from filing frivolous public records lawsuits, a Palm Beach County judge this week said he will consider imposing sanctions against a Gulf Stream man who has buried the tiny town with hundreds of requests for information.

Turning a lawsuit Christopher O’Hare filed against the oceanfront town against him, Circuit Judge Thomas Barkdull ruled that O’Hare acted in bad faith when he filed as many as 60 public records requests a day and then sued Gulf Stream when it couldn’t keep up with his demands.

“O’Hare’s conduct in this case was clearly intended to inappropriately manufacture public records requests in order to generate public records litigation and attorney’s fees,” Barkdull wrote in an 18-page decision.

Instead of having any true desire for information, O’Hare used the state’s public records laws to inundate the town with “gotcha type requests,” Barkdull wrote. O’Hare’s intent was to “harass and intimidate the town’s employees to generate litigation and fees,” the judge said.

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May 13, 2017 2:36 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 2:36 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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