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/.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

February 29, 2016 6:29 PM

Cities, counties and school districts won't be getting the changes to Washington's public records act that they asked lawmakers to make this session.

This week it became clear that a House bill allowing local governments to limit the time spent processing public record requests and to prioritize handling of those requests would not be voted on.

Now the bill's author and its supporters are hoping lawmakers will pay for a study of the effect of key provisions of the waylaid legislation, House Bill 2576, on use of the state's chief law for insuring public access to information about government. Continue...

———————

February 29, 2016 6:26 PM

In 2014, Paula Lavigne, a reporter for ESPN’s Outside the Lines program, began investigating college athletes and the justice system.

Lavigne wanted to know whether prominent athletes receive preferential treatment during criminal inquiries, and to that end, she requested incident reports involving football and basketball players over a five-year period from campus police departments at 10 universities.

After some haggling, she ultimately received documents from nine of them—but she got nothing from Notre Dame, the only private school on her list. Continue...

——————

February 29, 2016 6:13 PM
New Jersey taxpayers last year were on the hook for nearly $154,000 to settle court cases in which Gov. Chris Christie's administration tried to stop records from being disclosed to the public.
 
Last year's payouts included instances in which the administration attempted to shield records on how Christie, whose presidential campaign ended Feb. 10, attempted to promote himself to a national audience, as well as costs related to his frequent out-of-state travel.
 
The legal bills and payouts from 2015 mean taxpayers have footed a bill of nearly $758,000 since 2012 after courts deemed the administration was wrong to try to keep public records secret. That figure is likely to grow in the current year. Continue...

———————

February 26, 2016 6:50 PM

Barbara Petersen has been fighting back efforts to make Florida’s government less transparent for more than 20 years. There haven’t been many battles more consequential than the one she’s waging right now.

Over the last few years, there have been reports about a handful of people or firms using the state’s strong public records law in gotcha-style stings, essentially to extract legal fees from unwitting violators. Predictably, that led to demands to change the law.

But when a legislative fix was introduced late last year, with strong support from local municipalities, it was hardly tailored to the problem: Instead, the bill would give judges complete discretion over when to award attorneys’ fees in records cases, by changing the word “shall” to “may.” The effect on records disputes would be to make litigation less likely, and the threat of a suit a less effective deterrent to misbehavior. Continue...

————————

February 26, 2016 6:43 PM

A legislative proposal could ensure that the work of Wyoming’s influential revenue-estimating group can continue in secret and behind closed doors.

A bill passed by the Senate last week would exempt the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group – other than its final public reports – from the state’s public records and open meetings act. The group, more commonly known as CREG, issues annual and periodic reports projecting how much mineral taxes and other revenues the state can expect to take in during the coming years.

The governor and Legislature have used the information during the past several decades to determine how much can be spent in the state’s budget plans. Continue...

————————

February 26, 2016 6:39 PM

A state Senate committee this week decided that a non-profit may function as a surrogate government agency, with 85 to 95 percent of its funding consistently coming from public sources, and yet will not have to honor requests under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

A bill that would have subjected such entities to CORA was tabled under heavy fire.

What a travesty. It means the 20 community boards in this state charged with serving people with developmental disabilities — boards that collectively disburse nearly $300 million in public money — can skip merrily on their way, escaping the transparency that ought to apply when taxpayer funds are at stake. Continue...   

————————

February 26, 2016 6:27 PM

California has long led the nation in protecting public access to public information, with one glaring exception that took hold in the late 1970s: Police records have become increasingly off limits. The dubious rationale for blocking disclosure is that it is a private matter — and none of the public's business — when a police officer fires a weapon, is found to have lied during an investigation or is disciplined for misconduct.

Far from being a beacon of transparency, California — when it comes to the public's ability to assess the performance of its law enforcement agencies — is the nation's information black hole.

A bill by state Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, would restore the disclosure that Californians once considered a basic element of police oversight here, as it still is in many other states. There will no doubt be fierce opposition from officers and their unions to any effort to pare back the special privileges they have won over the last several decades. But Senate Bill 1286 is a wise package of reforms that would help to instill some needed public confidence in police agencies. Continue...

————————

February 26, 2016 6:14 PM

A Virginia bill that would have allowed the government to shield the names of police officers from the public was killed by a legislative committee Thursday after a fierce debate that pitted open records advocates against law enforcement groups.

The measure was introduced in response to a court ruling last year that directed the state to turn over the names and employment dates of thousands of law enforcement officials to The Virginian-Pilot, which is trying to determine whether officers who get fired are landing jobs at another agency.

Supporters of the bill said the release and publication of names could put officers in danger at a time of heightened tension between law enforcement and the public. But opponents said the measure went too far and would prevent the public from shining a light on inappropriate behavior. Continue...

———————

February 25, 2016 7:13 PM

Government transparency was the reoccurring theme this week at a Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee hearing, as lawmakers pushed for the passage of multiple bills that would beef up requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

As it now stands, the Open Meetings Act requires local- and state-level public bodies to hold open sessions in a location that is accessible to attendees, provide the public adequate notice of those sessions, and allow them to view the respective meeting minutes.

The act’s goals are to strengthen the people’s trust in government, guarantee that the government is held accountable and better allow the public to effectively participate in the political deliberations and decisions that affect them. Continue...

————————

February 25, 2016 7:06 PM

The Sumner County Board of Education must accept records requests via email and telephone by next week, according to a Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday.

The school system requested a stay by the appeals court last month, which would have delayed the implementation of a new public records policy by March 1.

However, the court found “no grounds to reverse the trial court’s decision” regarding the request.

Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay ruled in November that the school system violated the Tennessee Public Records Act by denying a records request in March 2014. The requester made the request over email and by telephone. The Sumner County Board of Education voted unanimously Dec. 1 to appeal the ruling. Continue...

————————

February 25, 2016 6:56 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature’s exemption from the requirements of the state’s open meetings law is unconstitutional, a conservative-leaning think tank said Thursday.

Attorney General Maura Healey declined to wade into the dispute, however. 

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute said the self-exemption restricts public access to certain legislative meetings and undermines the constitutional tenet that government be accountable for its actions.

In a letter to Healey, a Democrat, Pioneer asked that she issue an informal advisory opinion agreeing with its contention that the exemption written into the open meeting law was unconstitutional. Continue...

———————

February 25, 2016 6:42 PM

The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit that accuses state senators of violating the Sunshine Law. Progress Missouri filed suit after being kicked out of Senate hearings on multiple occasions while videotaping proceedings.

The group's appeal to the state Supreme Court comes after the circuit judge of Cole County sided with the Senate. The high court heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday. 

The Senate says it will grant Progress Missouri videotaping privileges if it registers as media with the Capitol News Association. But representatives from the organization, which is heavily involved in advocacy work, say that filing as a media organization would significantly change the nature of their projects. Continue...

————————

Syndicate content