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, 2016 5:33 PM

The Missouri House has passed legislation restricting public access to some government data on farms and ranches.

Lawmakers voted 104-49 Monday to exempt state agency data on animal health and the environmental impact of farms from open records laws.

The bill now heads to the Senate. Bill sponsor Rep. Jay Houghton said some farmers are reluctant to participate in a government disease tracking program because proprietary information could become public. He said limiting the access to that data would encourage more producers to take part in the program, which would make the food system safer. Continue...

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February 23, 2016 5:27 PM

A provision in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal to fully subject the Legislature to the Freedom of Information Law would be unlikely to lead to a torrent of new records being made available to the public.

The idea has widespread support in the transparency community, but some advocates think the governor’s top priority should be ensuring that existing FOIL requirements imposed on the executive branch work as smoothly as possible.

Most of the information in which the public is interested, they argue, is maintained by agencies and authorities that often resist public information requests. To get a sense of the scope of Cuomo’s proposal, POLITICO New York reviewed thousands of public information requests sent to legislatures that are already subjected to their states’ sunshine laws. The results were underwhelming — of the 448 requests since the beginning of 2015 sent to the Illinois House of Representatives, for example, only a dozen would be newly subjected to FOIL under the proposal. Continue...

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andrew cuomo, FOIL, new york
February 23, 2016 5:21 PM

An Iowa state board has voted to prosecute the Des Moines County Attorney on accusations that she didn't turn over law enforcement records sought by relatives of a woman killed by a Burlington police officer. 

The Hawk Eye reports that the Iowa Public Information Board voted 4-2 at its meeting last week to pursue action against Amy Beavers, saying she violated Iowa's open records law last year by not giving copies of the records to the attorney for Autumn Steele's relatives.

A Burlington officer accidentally shot Steele to death in January 2015 while responding to a fight between Steele and her husband. Beavers has said she thought her staff had sent the records to state investigators and so didn't have the records to share with the family's attorney. Continue...
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February 22, 2016 7:40 PM

Investigations into police shootings and other serious uses of force by law enforcement in California would be made public under new legislation.

Senate Bill 1286, announced Friday by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would also open access to findings of officer misconduct or job-related dishonesty. Law enforcement personnel records are strictly protected in California.

“The public has a right to know when officers apply deadly force and when serious cases of misconduct have been confirmed,” Leno said in a statement. “Failing to disclose such important information can fuel mistrust within our communities and threaten public safety.” Continue...

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February 22, 2016 7:34 PM

Mississippi politicians are required to regularly file campaign finance reports, and those reports, posted online by the secretary of state, are supposed to show the public details of the money they took in and spent.

But often, none of the above is the case.

For starters, Mississippi’s campaign finance records are kept online as PDFs, or pictures of each page of a report. They can’t be easily searched or tallied for donors or spending. Many other states’ and federal records are in searchable databases. Many Mississippi reports are handwritten, and some don’t use the state forms. One candidate for statewide office last year did hers in calligraphy. Continue...

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February 22, 2016 7:24 PM

It is time to modernize the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, to ensure the public can access government records in digital formats that allow them to understand and analyze the contents of these public records. 

The public must have access to such records to hold their governments accountable and to promote greater transparency, civic engagement and public trust.

This is why I am sponsoring SB16-037, which will be heard in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Continue...

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February 22, 2016 7:18 PM

Utahns will likely no longer have to wait two weeks to find out election results in tight races.

HB21, a bill requiring clerks to update vote counts between Election Day and the official canvass, has already sailed through both the House and the Senate with overwhelming approval.

It now awaits Gov. Gary Herbert's signature. The proposed law change comes after voters waited anxiously to know the winner of two high-profile, neck-and-neck races last year: the Salt Lake City mayor's race and Proposition 1 in Salt Lake County. Continue...

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February 22, 2016 7:14 PM

If an agenda for a special city council meeting doesn’t say that members will vote on something, are they allowed to vote anyway? 

It’s a question that South Carolina’s highest court will answer in the coming weeks as part of one man’s bid to show that the Mount Pleasant Town Council skirted open-government laws in 2008 by hiding contentious decisions behind incomplete agendas. In a series of special meetings that included executive sessions on the topic, town leaders pushed through a Shem Creek land deal that cost taxpayers $6 million for a tract worth half that.

A ruling in favor of Steve Brock, the former TV station executive and planning commission member who sued the town, could further define the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by saying that governing bodies statewide must give advance notice of all anticipated actions at special meetings, even when they occur after executive sessions. Continue...

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February 19, 2016 7:34 PM

Obtaining fee waivers for open records requests may be more likely under a bill that the Utah House passed Thursday.

Representatives approved HB63 on a 68-2 vote and sent it to the Senate.

Its sponsor, House Democratic Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Utah's open-records laws now allow and encourage state and local agencies to waive fees for requests if they determine them to be in the public interest. Continue...

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February 19, 2016 7:29 PM

The art of compromise seems to have died in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, it still has a pulse in Tallahassee.

This week the Florida Senate sponsor of one of the most pernicious bills in the current legislative session agreed to some positive changes. The amended bill isn't perfect, but it's greatly improved. 

Now the House needs to follow suit.

The legislation in question would have gutted the state law that requires government agencies to release their records to the public — one of two pillars, along with open meetings, in Florida's proud tradition of government in the sunshine.

As introduced, the bill would have stripped the guarantee that agencies caught violating the open-records law would reimburse the legal costs for citizens who take them to court. Continue...

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February 19, 2016 7:23 PM

The lead poisoning of the entire city of Flint, Michigan was preventable and should never have happened. 

Numerous pundits and industry experts have said this. Most of them, however, explain that if government had functioned properly, the environmental agencies would have properly communicated to their higher-ups and the problem would have been spotted much sooner.

Those with a more cynical view intone that the government in Ann Arbor was not terribly interested in the plight of the largely poor residents of long-beleaguered Flint, a casualty of the Rust Belt Collapse. 

I think these experts have it wrong. Open data can help us, the people of the United States, prevent the next Flint. More specifically, real-time, machine-readable, regularly reported open data that is transparent from collection all the way through analysis. Continue...

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February 19, 2016 7:13 PM

A Sedgwick County judge has ruled that a Wichita State University statistician won’t get access to paper tapes from voting machines to search for fraud or mistakes.

Judge Tim Lahey denied a motion by Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman to dismiss the case brought by statistician Beth Clarkson. But that was a hollow victory for Clarkson. Her point in filing the lawsuit was to gain access to the tapes to check the accuracy of the voting machines, searching for an answer to statistical anomalies she has found in election results.

The paper tapes at issue are printed by the voting machines as each voter casts a ballot. The voter can view the tape through a plastic window in the machine to verify their choices before hitting a button that records their votes.

Clarkson sued last year seeking access to the tapes under the Kansas Open Records Act. Representing herself without a lawyer, she lost. Continue...

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