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 12, 2016 7:51 PM

Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow them access to documents from closed John Doe investigations involving Gov. Scott Walker.

The bill would create a legislative committee with oversight of law enforcement, granting it subpoena power and the ability to access records from secret John Doe investigations once closed.

There have been two John Doe probes involving Walker, one looking into whether his aides engaged in illegal campaigning when he was Milwaukee County executive, the other examining whether his recall campaign in 2012 coordinated illegally with outside conservative groups. Continue...

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February 12, 2016 7:48 PM

Houston authorities declined this week to open up their case files on Victor Reyes, a Mexican national with a long criminal record whose 2015 shooting spree killed two and wounded three before he was killed by a police officer.

The move by Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman highlights the veil of secrecy hanging over the files of foreign nationals convicted of crimes — including the so-called “worst of the worst” that immigration authorities say remain a primary focus for deportation.

Reyes had been removed from the country four times. Federal authorities have also declined to release the deceased killer's full immigration history file to The Texas Tribune. One of Reyes’ shooting victims, John Weston of Houston, recently told the Tribune that his family “never got any satisfactory answer” from government authorities about Reyes, who shot him in the face and left him seriously injured.

“It was almost like it was top-secret information,” he said. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 7:01 PM

Civil liberties advocates say one of two proposals to regulate police body cameras in Utah this year would give law enforcement too much leeway and would exempt videos of fatal shootings from open records laws.

The proposal, from Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, makes body camera footage a private government record if it shows "images of nudity, death or gruesome events," or was recorded while an officer is serving a search warrant or needed permission to enter a private location.

Police would be allowed to release the record if they felt there was a broader public interest to do so. If they still decline, someone requesting the video would have to appeal to the state's public records committee or a judge.

Neither bill has had a hearing yet. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:57 PM

A school discipline reporting bill cleared the House Education Committee on Wednesday, despite concerns it would limit the ability of community organizations to obtain data needed to analyze factors contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Jim Freeman, executive director of The Grassroots Action Support Team, testified that HB 16-1098 would make it harder for groups such as Denver-based Padres & Jóvenes Unidos to find out how many students enter the juvenile justice system because of offenses committed at schools.

The bill is a follow up to 2015 legislation intended to improve the reporting of school safety and disciplinary violations. Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, said this year’s measure clarifies that information related to expunged juvenile delinquency cases can be released to the state Division of Criminal Justice for research purposes. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:48 PM

Michigan's top law enforcement official says the governor's office should no longer be exempt from public-records requests.

Michigan is one of just two states with a blanket exemption for the governor and the executive office from open-records requests. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said Tuesday the "reset button has been pushed" because of crisis over Flint's water being contaminated with lead, and he is hopeful that lawmakers will broaden the law. 

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder - who has apologized for the crisis - has voluntarily released his personal emails from 2014 and 2015 related to the water emergency, but not correspondence among his staff. Continue...

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February 11, 2016 6:44 PM

A four-page bill is causing a stink in Cincinnati. It's a back-and-forth battle about parents’ right to know versus private schools’ right to independent operation.

The bill would require private schools to publish some information on their websites, including enrollment and financial data. Other information – reading lists and school bylaws, for example – would have to be accessible to parents of enrolled students.

“Transparency is the only thing that’s going to save us,” said Rep. Thomas Brinkman, Jr., R-Mount Lookout, the bill’s primary sponsor.

Opponents have a different take. Continue... 

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February 11, 2016 6:38 PM

Attorney-client privilege is a near-sacred pillar of our legal system. It protects disclosure of legal communications, specifically excluding attorneys from being compelled to testify regarding most client communications in any legal proceeding.

Regrettably, some state agencies are inappropriately manipulating attorney-client privilege as a shield against public disclosure laws. Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:55 PM

Two Phoenix lawmakers outlined proposed legislation Monday that they said would increase police transparency, accountability and trust in the community. 

Rep. Reginald Bolding and Rep. Ken Clark, both D-Phoenix, were quick to praise police officers, even as they proposed the new oversight measures.

"I have a great amount of respect for the women and men who put their lives on the line every single day," Bolding said at a news conference. "The majority of officers operate with distinction and integrity. But a few bad apples have continuously tainted the law-enforcement community and the relationships with those they serve." Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:52 PM

Across the nation, this seems to be a year in which not just distrust but outright contempt for government is driving the body politic.

For both major political parties, perceived outsiders are at or near the top of the polls after months of campaigning and one state caucus. A national average of public opinion polls shows less than 30 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction while more than 63 percent say it’s headed in the wrong direction.

Hawaii isn’t exempt from this general feeling of angst and dissatisfaction. Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:43 PM

Kansas lawmakers are moving forward with efforts to close a loophole in the state’s open records law that allows public officials to use private e-mail to conduct official business. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 361 on Tuesday, sending it to the Senate floor. The bill would amend the Kansas Open Records Act so that any record made by an officer or employee of a public agency “in connection with the transaction of public or official business” would be considered a public record “regardless of form, characteristics or location.”

That addition would allow people to obtain private e-mails sent by public officials when they deal with public business. Continue...

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February 10, 2016 4:39 PM

An Indiana Senate panel will hear arguments on a bill to give law enforcement agencies the authority to withhold body camera video from the public. 

Members of the judiciary committee will start the debate of the bill at 9:30 Wednesday morning. The measure being heard Wednesday passed the House last month in a 65-30 vote.

As it’s written the bill gives law enforcement agencies the authority to withhold body camera video from the public. If the media or anyone wants to see the video the bill would require them to obtain a court order. Continue... 
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February 10, 2016 4:35 PM

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who vowed to bring transparency to City Hall, repeatedly met with lobbyists but failed to disclose the sit-downs as promised.

An analysis of hundreds of pages of de Blasio’s personal schedules found dozens of meetings and conference calls with lobbyists that were not included on a list of “lobbying meetings” posted on the city’s website.

Two meetings missing from the online list were with real-estate mogul Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu, leaders of the movement to ban carriage horses from Central Park. Continue...

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