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 25, 2017 4:22 PM

Kentucky State Police violated the state's open-records law by refusing a mother's request for bodycam video from her son's death by municipal police officers who were responding to a restaurant drive-thru shooting, the state attorney general's office said Monday.

The agency had denied Kathy Harris a copy of the police bodycam video because it said public disclosure of the "extremely graphic images" would be so traumatic that it could "irreparably harm" the Harris family and two victims who survived the shooting spree in Russellville, Kentucky.

That argument was rejected by Assistant Attorney General Michelle D. Harrison. Her opinion sided with Harris, whose 34-year-old son Joseph Harris was fatally shot in the confrontation with officers in the southern Kentucky town last March.

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January 25, 2017 4:20 PM

A Kentucky judge has sided with the state's flagship university in an open-records dispute involving a student newspaper's dogged pursuit of documents it wants to review in a sexual harassment investigation of a former professor.

In his ruling Monday, Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark reversed a state attorney general's opinion in the case pitting the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper. The AG's office said last year that the university had violated the state's open-records law by refusing to release documents on the professor's case to the newspaper on the Lexington campus.

The university responded by suing the campus newspaper. Under state law, the AG's opinions can be appealed, but the attorney general cannot be named as a party in the suit. The university said its dispute was with Attorney General Andy Beshear, not the campus newspaper.

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January 25, 2017 4:18 PM

Trump administration officials instructed employees at multiple agencies in recent days to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence, raising concerns that federal employees will be able to convey only information that supports the new president’s agenda.

The new limits on public communications appear to be targeting agencies that are charged with overseeing environmental and scientific policy, prompting criticism from officials within the agencies and from outside groups focused on climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Agriculture and Interior departments now have formal policies restricting what they should convey to the public about their work.

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January 24, 2017 3:33 PM

Concerned that some government boards were barring the public from meetings that should have been open, state lawmakers in 2001 enacted major changes to Colorado’s Sunshine Law.

They added, among other new requirements, two prerequisites before officials could shut the door: 1) Cite the statutory subsection authorizing the executive session; and 2) Reveal the particular matter to be discussed “in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.”

The public, the General Assembly decided, is entitled to know something about what their city councils, county commissions and school boards talk about in private meetings.

But how much specificity is required under the law when a government body votes to go into executive session? In two recent court decisions, judges in Jefferson and Eagle counties offered starkly different viewpoints.

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January 24, 2017 3:28 PM

Government agencies, in many instances, have given contractors exclusive rights to the data. The government then removes it from public view online or never posts the data, laws and documents that are considered public information.

Public datasets that state and local governments are handing off to private contractors include court records and judicial opinions; detailed versions of state and local laws and, in some cases, the laws themselves; building codes and standards; and public university graduation records.

Much of the information collected and stored by private data companies such as LexisNexis, Westlaw or CrimeMapping.com is not available to the public without a price. The information that is available often is not searchable, cannot be compared with data from other jurisdictions and cannot be copied unless members of the public pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in subscription fees.

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January 24, 2017 3:23 PM

Last year Yakima County responded to 2,453 requests for public documents. Many of those had multiple parts, each requiring research of thousands of documents.

For example, one recent request in the county’s planning department contained 10 boxes of documents.

Answering requests isn’t always simple. Documents must be reviewed to redact confidential information, a process that could take weeks or months depending on the size and scope of the request, said the county’s public records officer, Stormy Miller.

“People think they’re just going to put in their record requests and get their documents — and it’s not that easy,” she said.

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January 23, 2017 2:09 PM

The Office of Open Records Counsel has published a new model public records policy that can be used by government entities in establishing records policies, which are required by law this year.

A new law mandates that all government entities in the state establish a public records policy by July 1, 2017. The policies must include the name of entity’s public records request coordinator and include information about requesting public records and any fees.

The model policy developed by the Open Records Counsel, along with updated Best Practices & Guidelines, includes many of the same principles and advice given previously by the office. But the updated guidelines and new model policy could make it easier for government entities to understand what is required under the law and help them avoid adopting policies or practices that are in conflict with the law.

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January 23, 2017 2:07 PM

A bipartisan pair of state lawmakers working on public disclosure legislation say they are trying to strike a balance between keeping the public informed and managing the costs of responding to records requests.

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, are working on proposals to help government officials recoup more of their expenses while also discouraging massive requests that can cripple a city’s or county’s ability to respond.

The efforts come as some local government agencies claim fulfilling public records requests has become too burdensome. Public disclosure advocates maintain the law is indispensable for government transparency.

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January 23, 2017 1:43 PM

A class action lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia could mean refunds for millions – anyone who paid fees to access federal court records using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system in the last six years.

Plaintiffs are three nonprofit organizations—National Veterans Legal Services Program, National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice--who used the system but say the ever-increasing fees are excessive, far beyond what the law allows.

Congress in the E-Government Act of 2002 authorized the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) to establish PACER fees “as a charge for services rendered” but “only to the extent necessary” “to reimburse expenses incurred in providing the services.”

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January 20, 2017 3:53 PM

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) along with Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA-01) today applauded the Senate’s passage of bipartisan legislation that would increase government transparency and accountability. The legislation was originally introduced by Carter in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017, H.R. 72, would provide the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with enhanced tools to oversee federal programs and ensure it is able to obtain the records needed to audit, evaluate and investigate federal agencies. In particular, this bill would ensure GAO has full access to the National Directory of New Hires, or NDNH, a database essential for properly auditing many of the government’s largest programs.

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January 20, 2017 3:47 PM

Open government advocates and Iowa’s state universities are poised for a fight over whether federal copyright laws pre-empt state laws requiring government agencies to provide public access to state-generated documents and materials.

The staff of the Iowa Public Information Board has found the University of Iowa broke Iowa’s public records law by refusing to share its photos and video from the historic 2008 floods with a Cedar Rapids documentary filmmaker.

“Public records were not released as required by Iowa law,” Interim Board Director Margaret Johnson wrote in a report to the board this week. “The issue is whether invoking federal copyright protection excuses the violation.”

The UI asserts copyright law protects the creative works of its employees. But open government advocates say allowing the UI to keep these records confidential may open the door to agencies shielding all sorts of public records.

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January 20, 2017 3:42 PM

Covington's firefighters union asked the attorney general to determine whether the city of Covington violated open meetings laws by a delayed release of emails.

Attorney General Andy Beshear sided with the city, saying the city didn't take an unreasonable amount of time inspecting the 895 emails involved in the open records request.

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