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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April 24, 2017 11:51 PM

The Daily Press took its battle with the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court over access to a statewide court records database to the justices of the state Supreme Court on Friday.

The newspaper is seeking the data under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to determine whether race plays a part in plea bargains in the state’s circuit courts. The position of the OES is that each of the state’s clerks — not the OES — is the custodian of the records.

The OES, which is the court administrator for the state, has turned over to the Daily Press the data from 50 clerks who agreed to release it, but withheld data from the 68 clerks who did not agree, even though the information is public (two of the 120 circuit courts, Fairfax County and Alexandria, do not use the case management system).

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April 24, 2017 11:48 PM

There are a lot of factors when it comes to determining your FOIA request cost, but one of the key ones is which requester category you fall under. Under FOIA fee regulations, there are three broad categories of requesters, and making sure you are classified correctly can mean getting the documents for free or a reasonable fee and being asked to pay thousands - or even hundreds of thousands - of dollars.

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April 23, 2017 8:13 PM

Even in the dark days following their son’s death, the Dyers tended to believe the police. Why wouldn’t they? Kathy, a civil engineer, and Robert, a teacher, were solid citizens.

And yet, they wondered: What were those marks on his arms — “chicken feet” scratches, Robert called them. Or what to make of the emergency room doctor’s notes saying it appeared Graham had been the victim of an assault? Seeking answers, the couple asked the Mesquite Police Department for their records of what happened that night.

But the department refused to release them — because, its lawyers explained, Texas law said it didn’t have to.

State law says a police agency isn’t required to turn over records for incidents that don’t result in a conviction. Graham, who’d been charged with assaulting a police officer after the confrontation, had died before his case could be litigated. So, the department reasoned, his records were confidential. Asked to weigh in on the dispute, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott agreed the Mesquite police could refuse the Dyers’s request.

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April 23, 2017 8:10 PM

Is the nonprofit Northside Hospital Inc. subject to the state’s open records law?

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments on the high-profile case, which involves Northside’s rejection of requests for information about financial documents and other matters.

Attorney Peter Canfield argued that Northside – a financially successful hospital system based in Atlanta – is subject to the Georgia Open Records Act because it was created by a public hospital authority, which is a government entity, and that it operates solely on the authority’s behalf.

The outcome of the legal battle may have a major effect on the Georgia hospital industry, because Northside’s corporate structure resembles many others in the state.

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April 23, 2017 8:08 PM

The education department is among the least responsive agencies in New York City when it comes to public records requests.

Worse than the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Administration for Children’s Services — and far worse than the NYPD. That’s according to an analysis of a year’s worth of open records requests initially gathered by the Village Voice and subsequently provided to Chalkbeat.

In fact, the Department of Education’s 103-day average response time to public records requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Law makes it the least responsive of more than a dozen city agencies. (The NYPD’s 34-day average response time, by contrast, is three times faster.)

Between April 2015 and April 2016, the education department received 1,071 public records requests. Some were either fulfilled or denied in a matter of days, but nearly half the requests they answered took 60 days or longer to be resolved. Seventeen percent dragged on over six months.

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April 20, 2017 3:44 PM

The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday seeking documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection detailing how President Donald Trump’s travel ban was implemented on the northern border.

The suit was joined by five other New England ACLU affiliates. It seeks records from heavily trafficked transportation hubs throughout the region, including airports in Burlington, Boston and Bangor, Maine.

Lia Ernst, staff attorney for the ACLU of Vermont, said the state chapter has received about 10 reports of travelers improperly harassed and turned away at Vermont’s northern border crossings. Ernst said Muslims were among those affected, a potential breach of the Constitution’s religious protections.

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April 20, 2017 3:44 PM

The FOI Foundation of Texas is pleased to announce 2017 guidelines for the Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award contest. The contest is open to newspaper, broadcast and online media. The Spirit of FOI Award recognizes outstanding work in promoting open government and the public’s right to know.

The deadline for submission of entries is Thursday, May 18, 2017. Nominations must be for work published or broadcast in calendar year 2016. A nomination can be a single news story or series; an editorial or series of editorials; columns; editorial cartoons; or a community FOI project. There is a limit of one entry per news organization. Entries will be judged in the following size classifications, and up to two entries will be recognized in each class (a winner and an honorable mention, if warranted).

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April 20, 2017 3:43 PM

FOIA requesters who relied on lists of classified directives published by both the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to know what documents to file FOIA requests for may now be out of luck. In a transparency backslide, both the DOD and JCS websites no longer publish lists of classified directives and instructions, making it impossible to know what to FOIA.

The Defense Department’s “what’s new” listing on its Issuances Website has no notices of classified directives from this year and is (at least) missing instructions from January 2017, even though the site was last updated in April. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Directives Library, for its part, now sends members of the public interested in controlled directives to a broken URL; before the change the JCS posted a combined list of all unrestricted, limited, and restricted directives.

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April 19, 2017 9:49 PM

Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub Jr. is calling on the chairman of House Oversight Committee to become more engaged in overseeing ethics questions in the Trump administration.

In an interview with NPR on Monday, Shaub said public inquiries and complaints involving Trump administration conflicts of interest and ethics have been inundating his tiny agency, which has only advisory power.

"We've even had a couple days where the volume was so huge it filled up the voicemail box, and we couldn't clear the calls as fast as they were coming in," Shaub said. His office is scrambling to keep pace with the workload.

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April 19, 2017 9:46 PM

Since public access opened over a year ago, FOIA requests for video from Metropolitan Police body-worn cameras (BWC) have numbered just over sixty and redacting those released so far has cost only $25,000.

Those facts, released by the Open Government Coalition in a Sunshine Week briefing at the National Press Club, are far from the alarming estimates provided by the executive branch to the D.C. Council in the heat of the extended camera debate in 2015.

The mayor fought to prohibit public access, in part with forecasts that the District faced sky-high costs--more than a million dollars a year--for new staff to handle time-consuming review of an expected 4,500 requests a year. The projections lacked any foundation, as there was scant BWC experience nationwide at the time. With the small evidence available (that showed nothing like such costs), the Coalition rebutted the estimates and joined many community voices in successfully urging the Council that regular FOIA procedures were adequate to protect all the interests involved.

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April 19, 2017 9:44 PM

The public could soon get a look at confidential reports about errors, mishaps and mix-ups in the nation’s hospitals that put patients’ health and safety at risk, under a groundbreaking proposal from federal health officials.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to require that private health care accreditors publicly detail problems they find during inspections of hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as the steps being taken to fix them. Nearly nine in 10 hospitals are directly overseen by those accreditors, not the government.

There’s increasing concern among regulators that private accreditors aren’t picking up on serious problems at health facilities. Every year, CMS takes a sample of hospitals and other health care facilities accredited by private organizations and does its own inspections to validate the work of the groups. In a 2016 report, CMS noted that its review found that accrediting organizations often missed serious deficiencies found soon after by state inspectors.

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April 19, 2017 12:27 AM

City Hall wants people to have easier access to things like code violations, pothole locations and other information they're seeking.

Syracuse's innovation office is crafting an open data policy for sharing all sorts of stats on the operation of city government.

Under the new policy, the city would release information on things like outstanding code violations, location of potholes and other data routinely sought by residents. It will also provide analysis of that data and show trends where available.

Currently, access to most of the city's cache of information requires a Freedom of Information request, which goes through the city law department and can take months to process.

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