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 3, 2016 4:32 PM

The Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association struck a blow for public union transparency Tuesday, allowing the public to attend contract negotiations for the first time. But the public didn't show up.

Besides the representatives on either side of the table at Metro headquarters on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there were only a few spectators, mostly reporters. And people attending the meeting would have had difficulty following the proceedings; talks covered esoteric subjects only insiders would understand.

The negotiations, which involved the union representing Metropolitan Police Department police sergeants, lieutenants and captains went down pretty much how you would expect. Continue... 

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February 3, 2016 4:26 PM

A measure aimed at keeping more information about public employees' pay out of the public eye won approval from a key Virginia Senate panel Tuesday, but the group narrowed the scope of legislation that could have kept secret all information about chemicals used in fracking.

The Senate General Laws Committee's Freedom of Information subcommittee asked for more study of legislation that would give two-thirds of Virginia counties and more than half of its cities twice as much time to respond to FOIA requests.

The public employee salaries bill, SB 202, says governments would not have to release salary or pay information about government employees who make up to twice the federal minimum wage. It bars the release of any database that includes public officials' names along with their salary. Continue...

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February 3, 2016 4:20 PM

Should we charge a toll when a Manchester resident wants to walk into City Hall?

Manchester Rep. Patrick Long wants to increase the cost of open government by allowing public officials to charge people directly for doing their jobs.

HB 1611 would gut New Hampshire’s Right to Know law by adding huge fees for public record requests. Local and state bureaucrats could bill people seeking access to public records for the time it takes to compile those records. If you wanted to review old minutes from your local school board, a municipal employee would estimate how many hours it would take to find them, and make you pay up front. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 4:12 PM

Seeking to strengthen the state’s public records law to provide increased public access to government information, Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has filed a number of amendments to the public records legislation released last week by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

The bill is expected to be taken up in the Senate formal session on Feb. 4.

“Civic engagement and the strength of our democracy depend on the public availability and accessibility of information that can foster understanding, inform decisions and empower oversight,” said Tarr in a statement issued Monday night. “Passing strong, workable and practical legislation to modernize and strengthen our public records law is and should be a legislative priority.” Continue...

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February 2, 2016 4:04 PM

Twenty Colorado nonprofits that spend public dollars to serve people with disabilities should be required like government agencies to provide detailed financial records and other information on request, parents and advocates told state lawmakers Monday.

“We’re not asking for more money from the state to care for our son,” said Darlene Beals, mother of 19-year-old Alan, who has Down Syndrome. “We’re asking for tools to check on community-centered boards for services already approved.”

Under SB 16-038, community-centered boards (CCBs) receiving more than 75 percent of their annual funding from public sources would be subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The bill, introduced By Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, also would have the State Auditor conduct performance audits of CCBs at least once every five years. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 3:58 PM

Public meeting agendas in Rhode Island are “often vague, lacking critical information, and at times entirely unhelpful” to residents attempting to participate in their government, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has found.

In reviewing just one week of public meeting agendas, the ACLU of RI discovered numerous violations of a critical portion of the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), and recommended that the law be strengthened in order to adequately protect the public’s right to know.

The ACLU review of the agendas for every public meeting held during the week of October 5, 2015, found that many of them failed to offer meaningful explanations about the items to be discussed. In addition, the state's 48-hour notice requirement was undermined by public bodies’ use of weekends to comply with that timeframe, and served to discourage individuals, and particularly individuals in need of accommodations, from attending meetings. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 3:53 PM

Delaware is redoubling its open data efforts, Gov. Jack Markell has announced. Through the signing of Executive Order 57, the governor mandated the creation of a Data Governance Council that will help executive branch agencies publish their data on the state’s open data portal.

“In today’s technology-driven world, we can do more to improve transparency by sharing non-identifiable public data in a format that is user friendly for members of the public seeking information,” Markell said in a press release. “The Delaware Open Data Portal offers this access in a central location and will facilitate better data sharing and collaboration across public agencies, nonprofits and the private sector to spur innovation and develop applications that can benefit our communities.”

The council is required to issue a public report within six months on its progress and a final plan for statewide open data integration by Sept. 30. Continue...

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February 2, 2016 3:48 PM

Calling the agency “woefully out of compliance” with the District’s Freedom of Information Act, the DC Office of Open Government issued an opinion Friday finding the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) failed to post records of building permits required to be available free online. Instead, according to the opinion, the agency disobeyed the law two ways, first by requiring an ANC Commissioner asking for a copy of a permit file to submit a FOIA request, then sending it to be processed by a private copy service that could charge its own fees.

Mandatory disclosures are part of the D.C. FOIA intended to make a wide range of agencies' records readily available at no charge, without burdening the public with details of formal request. Included are 10 kinds of information such as agency decisions, rules, contracts, staff salaries and more; online access applies to records created since 2001.

Advocates have noted for years that agencies commonly ignore the law. See, for example, a study of 54 agencies in 2009 by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University finding required records were posted less than half the time. Continue...  

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February 1, 2016 7:08 PM

It is ironic that the University of Colorado prepared a detailed report of how Littleton Public Schools could make its district safer after a school shooting but the very same university won't release its own report of how it handled James Holmes when he was a graduate student.

Holmes was a student until a few weeks before his deadly attack on a theater in Aurora in July 2012. After the massacre, the university retained Robert Miller, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, to conduct an independent review of how the university handled Holmes.

Specifically, the report looked at "various university systems, procedures and actions related to the subject," according to a statement. Continue...

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February 1, 2016 7:02 PM

One game that government officials like to play is to pretend they didn't hear you. Kind of like kids when you ask them if they've done their homework or if they could mow the lawn. Ask again, and you might get a grunt, ask a third time and you might be accused of harassment.

I don't know if the state Department of Natural Resources is playing those games with Midwestern Environmental Advocates, but the public interest law firm filed suit last week contending just that.

In one case, the firm has been waiting for more than 10 months for the DNR to provide records it asked for, although the firm acknowledged it learned recently it had missed a payment deadline for processing the records. In another case, the law firm said it has waited more than seven months for records. Continue...

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February 1, 2016 6:56 PM

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has created an Open Government Division within his office to beef up enforcement of New Mexico’s freedom-of-information laws, and though the process has had a few hiccups, transparency advocates are optimistic that the office will be more aggressive.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has long complained that the office, through several administrations, has never prioritized enforcement of the state’s laws guaranteeing access to public records and meetings.

In a 2015 Center for Public Integrity report, New Mexico earned a failing grade for providing public access to information. CPI’s analysis found government agencies did not generally provide records in a timely manner and that members of the public had little recourse to force their release. Continue...

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February 1, 2016 6:51 PM

A Kansas City-area Republican is sponsoring a bill that would set limits on when police camera footage is public record in Missouri.

The bill would block access to body camera recordings shot in homes, hospitals and schools unless the investigation is closed and someone in the video requests it.

“My biggest concern was footage that’s captured on a body camera when an officer is called to a situation inside someone’s home. That’s a privacy issue that’s protected by the Fourth Amendment,” said Rep. Ken Wilson, the bill’s sponsor. “Anything that’s out in the public, you have no expectation of privacy there, I mean everybody’s got a video camera on a phone anymore. I don’t really care about that. But in a home, I just think we have to be careful about something that’s in a home.” Continue... 

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