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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August 17, 2016 12:51 PM

Yesterday, in comments, 14 organizations committed to government openness and accountability express concerns that certain provisions in a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed regulations could hinder the FOIA process. The comments provide recommendations on ways the regulations should go further to ensure greater access to public interest information. The comments include recommendations designed to ensure that the proposed HHS FOIA regulations – the first revision since 1988 -- uphold requesters’ rights under the FOIA statute, and conform to the new provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Continue...

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August 16, 2016 1:41 PM

Not long after taking over as editor of the Des Moines Register in 2014, Amalie Nash told CJR that she was determined to uphold the paper’s “longstanding tradition of standing up for public records.”

So now, as she prepares to leave the Register after being promoted to the new position of West Region executive editor for Gannett, it’s fitting that the paper has just won a meaningful battle on the open-records front. The state of Iowa announced last week that it would no longer allow companies to unilaterally redact information from the public copies of bids for government contracts. The move was the result of a 2015 story by Register reporter Jason Clayworth that first revealed the practice, and a subsequent complaint Clayworth filed with the Iowa Public Information Board. Continue...

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August 16, 2016 1:34 PM

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has issued a binding opinion under the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that email messages sent or received through public employees' personal email accounts may be public records subject to disclosure under FOIA if the messages pertain to public business.

On Jan. 28, 2016, CNN submitted a FOIA request to the Chicago Police Department (CPD) seeking "all emails related to Laquan McDonald from Police Department email accounts and personal email accounts where business was discussed" by 12 police officers. McDonald, who was killed in the incident, was shot 16 times in October 2014 by a Chicago police officer. McDonald was unarmed and the incident drew headlines across the nation. Continue...

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August 16, 2016 1:21 PM

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed by Congress and signed into law in 1966, “established a policy of openness toward information within the control of the Executive Branch, and a presumption that such records should be accessible to the American public.” Since its enactment, FOIA has been frequently utilized by journalists, historians, attorneys, and members of the American public to track the inner workings of the federal government, as well as to hold it accountable.

Although an excellent source of public agency information, its utility has been hampered by long delays (sometimes for years), overuse of exemptions resulting in nondisclosure, high fees, and a cumbersome pre-digital age process often resulting in the need for specialists to get access to government documents. Continue...

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August 16, 2016 1:01 PM

A leading open-government advocate offered strong support Monday for a legal challenge to a proposed workers’ compensation insurance premium increase of nearly 20 percent.

“I think he’s got a cause of action,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Peterson said of Miami attorney James Fee, who is challenging the rate hike on open-government grounds. Continue...

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August 15, 2016 10:07 AM

When the Dallas police used a bomb robot to kill a suspect who had shot and killed five police officers and wounding nine others, it set a controversial precedent that raised questions about the procedures and practices the police had followed to determine whether to use a remote detonation explosive. Multiple journalists filed Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about the police’s decision-making process.

Now, the DPD has responded to these requests by lumping 17 distinct filings together and asking the Texas attorney general to allow it to withhold information on the grounds that the data is “embarrassing” and “of no legitimate concern to the public.” Continue...

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August 15, 2016 9:09 AM

A police force that picks and chooses the laws it will honor probably doesn’t deserve to call itself a law enforcement agency. The St. Louis Police Department behaves as if Missouri’s Sunshine Law doesn’t apply uniformly to departmental records and the fees it charges to access them.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month in St. Louis Circuit Court claiming that an ACLU staffer was quoted substantially higher fees than allowed by law after he requested 138 arrest reports. The total fee quoted by the police department came to $1,377, which included $897 for the reports and $480 for estimated staff research time to read and redact information. Continue...

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August 15, 2016 9:04 AM

Court challenges filed August 3 cite the “stubborn refusal” of District of Columbia and federal agencies to release records of the deal with the Trump Organization, developer of the Old Post Office Building at 12th St. and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

The Partnership for Civil Justice in February 2016 requested records under D.C. and federal open records laws, to learn whether the streets and sidewalks near the hotel—due to open in the fall--will remain open to the public for free speech activity. (The District has jurisdiction over activity on Pennsylvania Avenue; the federal government controls the sidewalks.) Continue...

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August 12, 2016 1:53 PM

Two large defense contracting firms are seeking to enter a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit where the Associated Press is demanding details on a settlement the State Department reached with one of the companies over export control violations.

BAE Systems plc, a British company, and BAE Systems Inc., its U.S.-based affiliate, filed motions in federal court in Washington Thursday asking to intervene in the case. Continue...

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August 12, 2016 1:01 PM

The city of Santa Fe on Wednesday launched a new website that officials say gives the public “unprecedented access to city budget data.”

The online transparency portal comes as City Hall continues to face criticisms over a budget gap of up to $15 million that led to service cuts and fee hikes for the current fiscal year. It also follows scathing reviews of the city’s management of a $30 million bond program for park improvement projects. Continue...

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August 11, 2016 12:25 PM

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office next week is holding three free public training sessions on the state’s open records and open meetings laws, including one in the Wichita area.

Space is limited and registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a spot, go to www.ag.ks.gov/open-gov or call 785-296-2215. Continue...

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August 11, 2016 12:17 PM

In a unanimous vote from the consent calendar, members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in the California Legislature passed an historic request this morning to audit the California Commission on Judicial Performance for the first time since it was established in 1961. Since its inception, this small but powerful judicial oversight agency has operated in relative secrecy, until June of this year, when Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky’s lenient sentencing of Stanford University student rapist Brock Turner created a national outcry that unwittingly thrust the agency into the media spotlight.

“The Center for Public Integrity gave California an ‘F grade’ on its 2015 report card for judicial accountability, said Kathleen Russell, the executive director of the Center for Judicial Excellence. “California’s lack of judicial accountability is renowned, and it weakens the public’s trust in its judges,’ she continued, “so this audit is an important step toward creating a culture of accountability for our state’s nearly 2,000 judges.” Continue...

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