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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March 10, 2016 4:14 AM

A renewed effort to give Arkansas information about so-called dark-money groups would be part of a national movement to seek disclosure about those who attempt to influence the outcomes of elections, according to the backer of the proposal and others.

A recent poll of the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 38 states are considering new disclosure laws that would require groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network to share more information about their funding and involvement in state elections.

“This kind of spending in elections has exploded over the past five years … and this area of law is evolving,” Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “If states want honesty, integrity and transparency in government, they need to keep pace with this area of the law." Continue...

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March 10, 2016 4:11 AM

Sloppy record keeping. Failure to follow the state’s open meetings and open records laws. Baffling instructions to anyone brave enough to file a complaint.

Those are a few of the charges the state’s auditor lobbed at Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission, the body that oversees the state’s ethics laws.

Tuesday’s audit is the first since the voter-approved commission formed in 2007. The audit identifies the commission’s labyrinthine complaint process as one of its biggest problems. Continue...

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March 10, 2016 4:04 AM

American cities rushed to provide police departments with body cameras, spurred by public outcry over shooting incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.

Having moved fast, however, cities are now running into friction, often from within their own ranks. Opponents of the contract arrangements say officials may have cut corners by signing no-bid deals, by not testing options thoroughly or by becoming too cozy with vendors.

Other cities, after hurrying into camera initiatives, have found unexpected costs, and some are pulling back. Continue...

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March 8, 2016 9:14 PM

Lobbyists could end up reporting far less of their spending on lawmakers under a bill lauded for improving the state’s campaign finance system.

House Bill 105, signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday, aims to make it easier for the public to access information about campaign contributions and lobbyists’ reporting. But the bill also ends a requirement that lobbyists report cumulative spending on lawmakers, and it increases the limit for reporting to $100 from $75 per event. The original legislation struck the cumulative total requirement.

The House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee increased the reporting limit, a change that made it through two more committees as well as the full House of Representatives and Senate.

That essentially means lobbyists could buy a lawmaker a $99 dinner multiple times, but never report it. Continue...

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March 8, 2016 9:12 PM

It was two snippets of video that ended up costing Melissa Click her job last week.

Click shot from obscurity to infamy in November when, while employed as an assistant professor of communications at the University of Missouri in Columbia, she was caught on tape calling for “some muscle” to remove a student videographer from a public space during a campus protest.

When the university’s Board of Curators voted to fire Click on Feb. 25, that episode was listed as part of the reason—but only part. Continue...

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March 8, 2016 9:08 PM

The Obama administration Monday unveiled a new open data portal that melds tools from various federal and local government agencies to help communities find ways to improve their residents' lives.

The Opportunity Project is "grounded in the president’s background as a community organizer," said Aden van Noppen, a special adviser within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, adding it was a form of "participatory development" based on the principle that "people are experts on their own lives."

The project, which is hosted by the Census Bureau at opportunity.census.gov, combines data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Agriculture, and other agencies to give communities information on jobs, housing, transportation, schools and other neighborhood amenities. Continue...

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March 8, 2016 9:04 PM

The legislative rationale behind Senate Bill 2237 presumes falsely that the business of taking an inmate’s life as punishment for a capital crime should be easy, quiet, free from confrontation or protest, and hidden as much as possible from public view or scrutiny.

That rationale is incredibly flawed.

This legislation presumes that how the state implements our harshest punishment for the most heinous crimes should be a secret ceremony conducted behind closed doors and without any accountability to the taxpayers.

The presumption is that the taxpayers don’t deserve the right to question or challenge the means used to impose the death penalty, to know who witnesses the imposition of the death penalty, and the identity of state employees or contractors who physically impose the execution. Continue...

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March 8, 2016 9:00 PM

The Ted Nugent Relief Act — a proposal to keep information on hunting and fishing licenses secret — is dead.

So is another bill that would have kept certain data about voters secret from the general public while still making it available to candidates, political parties and PACs.

And an attempt to undo access to public information in Florida as we know it was neutralized so that it gained the acceptance of the First Amendment Foundation.

With lawmakers set to go home on Friday, 2016 just might earn the distinction as the year that brought the least amount of damage to the state's public records laws in recent years. Continue...

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March 7, 2016 7:22 PM

State and local governments affect citizens’ daily lives, but often small governments, media and the public don’t understand open meeting and open record laws.

Free sessions offered by a nonprofit Idaho coalition aim to change that, but you’ll have to wait until fall for the next round of offerings.

Betsy Russell, a Boise-based journalist for The Spokesman-Review, and Dean Miller, then-editor of the Post Register in Idaho Falls, in 2004 formed Idahoans for Openness in Government, a broad-based coalition.

“Its mission is to educate people about Idaho’s open government laws … to encourage compliance,” said Russell, IDOG’s president. Continue...

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March 7, 2016 7:19 PM

The state legislature no longer will charge thousands of dollars for copies of its annually updated database of the Colorado Revised Statutes and ancillary information such as source notes and editors’ notes, the Committee on Legal Services decided Friday.

The committee, which includes members of both the House and Senate, also voted to stop copyrighting the ancillary information. There is no copyright on the laws themselves.

Now, anyone who wants the giant database of state laws to create an online search engine or some other application can get it for free. The Office of Legislative Legal Services has been charging vendors $2,000 to $6,000 for the database, depending on the version. Continue...

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March 7, 2016 7:16 PM

For the past several years police departments around the United States have been betting on “big data” to revolutionize the way they predict, measure and, ideally, prevent crime.

Some data scientists are now turning the lens on law enforcement itself in an effort to increase public insight into how well police officers are doing their jobs.

Last year, the city of Indianapolis and Code for America teamed up to launch Project Comport — an open-data platform for sharing information on complaints and use of force incidents. And two media projects recently funded by the Knight Foundation focus exclusively on American law enforcement. Continue...

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March 7, 2016 7:11 PM

New Jersey's highest court is weighing whether police departments should be given broad discretion over which documents to release under the state's public records laws.

News organizations and civil liberties advocates say a decision in the case, which involves records from a police shooting requested by a media company, will have broad implications for transparency in New Jersey.

Law enforcement officials are keenly interested as well. They say they need to be able to withhold records from police investigations to keep from tainting potential witnesses and jurors. Continue...

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