FOI Advocate News Blog

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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 23, 2015 1:34 PM

The federal government needs a new Freedom of Information Act champion.

Following the November retirement of Office of Government Information Services Director Miriam Nisbet, the office in charge of monitoring governmentwide FOIA compliance and policy is looking for a permanent replacement.

The job was posted today, and it’s of critical importance to both how the government releases information and records as well as how federal agencies share information with the public. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2015 1:27 PM

Deep in the bowels of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget is language to exempt research done by the University of Wisconsin System from the state’s open records law, unless it is published or patented.

This blanket exemption would spare the UW from needing a good reason to deny access to these records, as current law requires. Instead, universities could categorically spurn inquiries from citizens, media and even lawmakers looking into controversial research, potential threats to public safety, conflicts of interest or how tax dollars are spent.

Two prior attempts to exempt records of campus research, in 2013 and 2014, failed because Republican lawmakers refused to go along. “It clearly needs more discussion,” a UW lobbyist conceded after the second failed attempt. But now Walker has revived the idea in his budget, with little to no discussion having taken place. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:23 PM

A Saginaw County judge has approved a motion from the Michigan Attorney General's Office allowing the state agency to get involved in a case about the release of the names of approximately 100 Oakley Police Department reserve police officers.


Assistant Attorney General speaks in support of motion in Oakley reservist FOIA lawsuit
"Under the general village law act, there's no contemplation of phantom philanthropists who declare themselves as justified as serving as members of a general law village's police force," Assistant Attorney General John Szczubelek said during a Feb. 17 hearing in Saginaw County Circuit Court.
The Attorney General's Office, representing the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, submitted the motion last week that states reservists do not meet standards published by MCOLES to be considered police officers under the village law act.

That means the reservists' names cannot be withheld under the law enforcement exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, Assistant Attorney General John F. Szczubelek said before Saginaw County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kaczmarek on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:22 PM

The South Carolina House has given key approval to a bill that creates a new court to handle disputes over how government agencies handle open records requests.

The bill approved 90-16 on Wednesday would cut the amount of time agencies can take to answer a request for public records to 10 business days. It also would require agencies to post fee schedules to assure they are not trying to block requests by charging excessive money for copying and research.

The new Office of Freedom of Information Act Review would decide whether Freedom of Information Act complaints should be sent to an Administrative Law judge. If an agency breaks the law, it would have to pay damages. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:09 PM

Congress came tantalizingly close last year to passing a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which allows journalists and the public to access federal government records. The legislation, which would have brought more transparency, was blocked in December when the House speaker, John Boehner, refused to hold a vote on the Senate bill with no explanation. Two months later, lawmakers have a second chance.

Both the Senate and the House have bills pending that would put into law a “presumption of openness” and a rule against withholding information absent “foreseeable harm” to protected government interests — two things the Obama administration called for in 2009 but failed to carry out.

Both bills would both impose a 25-year limit on the withholding of documents that the government asserts are part of an internal deliberative process; there is no limit in the current law. The bills would allow more room for judicial review of whether a record request was properly denied and also give the public easier access to records that are released. Frequently requested records would be made available online. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 1:02 PM

Starting this summer, most public bodies in Michigan will be somewhat more accountable, a bit more transparent, in allowing people to discover what they do and how they do it.

The so-called Freedom of Information Act — so-called because it’s studded with exceptions and doesn't apply to the legislature or courts — was modified during the just-ended legislative session to give people a bit more leverage to press government for information.

The changes are designed to curb abusive fees and encourage prompt compliance with the law, according to an analysis by Butzel Long, the First Amendment attorneys for the Michigan Press Association. And while the law firm's FOIA highlights were designed for the journalists, it's important to remember that FOIA isn't just a press issue. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 12:55 PM

Carolina Public Press is at it again, continuing to foster a more well-informed region, with its newest initiative. Open WNC, which Executive Director Angie Newsome says she hopes to launch in July, aims to give readers and citizens of Western Carolina easy access to public documents, data and records.

The project is still seeking partners throughout the region.

More from CPP: Carolina Public Press is pleased to announce that it is working to launch a regional open government, data and records project called Open WNC. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2015 12:44 PM

The First Amendment Foundation is pleased to announce it will award George Gabel of Holland & Knight its 2014 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award.

“George Gabel is always there to stand up in court on behalf of the Sunshine laws and the First Amendment. George has been our legal champion for many years, as we worked to pry open public meetings, liberate public records and ensure the court system is open to the public,” said The Florida Times-Union Editor Frank Denton in his nomination letter.

Gabel has been involved in First Amendment, media law, and open government issues throughout his career. His recent victory in Brown v. Denton ensured the public involvement in what had been a secret mediation. The Jacksonville City Council rejected the proposed pension plan that was negotiated during the mediation. The city then negotiated a new pension plan in public as required by law. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:18 PM

In 1788, revolutionary leader Patrick Henry said: “The liberties of people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

That basic democratic principle is still important more than 200 years later.

Watchdogs, including the Better Government Association, rely on Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act to obtain most public records, which enables us to shine a light on government and hold officials accountable for the way they spend our tax dollars and make policy decisions that affect our lives. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:13 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and a coalition of labor unions plan to drop a lawsuit over the temporary closure of the state Capitol in December 2012 while the Legislature took initial votes on Michigan’s right-to-work law.

The plaintiffs have decided not to appeal Court of Claims Judge Deborah Servitto’s recent ruling that there was nothing illegal about the Michigan State Police’s decision to lock the doors to the Capitol during debate on the controversial bills, said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan.

Servitto also ruled that the Legislature did not violate the Open Meetings Act when 36 Republican legislative aides were directed to sit in the 175-seat House gallery during debate on the bills, taking away potential seats from members of the public. Continue>>>
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ACLU, FOIA lawsuit, Michigan
February 19, 2015 1:09 PM

Two First Amendment groups have requested permission to file briefs in support of a public records lawsuit brought by The Tennessean and other media organizations that goes before the state's Supreme Court in May seeking evidence in a rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players.

The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro Nashville last fall seeking access to records in the case that were not created by government entities but were in the hands of police. Those records include text messages between Vanderbilt football coaches and players.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition, but in January the state's highest court agreed to review the case. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:04 PM

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions — and fails to function — by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn’t because agencies invoke one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security. Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “interagency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. For example, the CIA invoked that exemption to deny a request for release of a 30-year-old internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.

On Feb. 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos — written by policymakers during the decisionmaking process — to those less than 25 years old. Continue>>>
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