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 1, 2017 2:30 PM

The Iowa Utilities Board plans to seek public records exemptions from the Legislature so it can communicate more thoroughly with utilities and federal regulatory agencies about cybersecurity and cyberattacks.

Under the current public records law, information about cybersecurity at utility companies is not shielded from the public, IUB Chairwoman Geri Huser told the House Commerce Committee Monday. That limits board members and IUB staff from complete access to cybersecurity information, such as how utilities protect against cyberattacks and respond in the event of an attack.

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February 1, 2017 2:28 PM

Rep. Phil Phelps, D-Flushing, says it took months for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to respond to his Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the Flint water crisis. The department initially said the documents did not exist, but months later the lawmaker received tens of thousands of documents the agency had withheld.

Phelps sent a request in early September 2015 to the DEQ as well as the Michigan Department of Treasury and the city of Flint. Phelps said his FOIAs asked for any documents relating to officials knowing that Flint River water was safe for use before switching the city’s source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the river. (Flint switched its water source to the Flint River in April 2014.)

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January 31, 2017 1:52 PM

In an apparent bow to critics and to increase transparency in state government decisions, the state's oil-well regulator on Wednesday proposed notifying the public and accepting comments on applications for hydraulic fracturing operations.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission currently does not issue public notices or hold hearings when an operator applies for a permit to drill a well and frack it to increase oil and gas production. Fracking is controversial in the Lower 48, where critics have charged it has led to contamination of well water, but officials in Alaska say it has been done here safely for years.

Information about fracking requests is currently made available to the general public after the agency approves the operation, although land owners within a half-mile radius of a planned well-bore must be notified by companies and can request an application.

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January 31, 2017 1:49 PM

The Kentucky Attorney General has ruled that Western Kentucky University violated the open records law by turning down requests from two student newspapers for sexual misconduct investigations into school employees.

In a ruling issued Monday, Attorney General Andy Beshear and Assistant Attorney Gordon Slone found WKU did not follow state law and ordered the university to "make immediate provision" for student reporters to inspect documents related to the investigations.

A reporter for the Kentucky Kernel, the independent student-run newspaper for the University of Kentucky, requested in October all investigative records for "Title IX investigations into sexual misconduct allegations levied against university employees in the past five years."

A reporter for Western's school newspaper, the College Heights Herald, made a similar request in November.

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January 31, 2017 1:43 PM

Texas court clerks are resisting a state proposal they say would strip them of their constitutional authority by making court documents available online for easy public access.

The statewide database, re:SearchTX, holds records from all 254 counties and is backed by the state’s Supreme Court. It currently is used by judges and soon will be available to attorneys and the public — who could search for civil court records and review them, all from the comfort of home.

Clerks say surrendering these records to a privately operated database would violate their role as custodians; the other side says this is an overstatement, and that taxpayers, not clerks, own the records. Clerks also say their departments will lose money with the public no longer having to head to a courthouse and pay printing fees of up to $1 a page. However, their opponents point out that the new system is set up so clerks would benefit from online users.

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January 31, 2017 12:11 AM

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled citizens can seek public records requests filed by others.

One of the plaintiffs had sought all public records requests filed in connection with the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case. Others had sought records from the Motor Vehicle Commission and state Department of Education.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie's office and numerous state agencies had sought to reverse a judge's ruling granting the requests.

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January 30, 2017 11:35 PM

Most state agencies are now systematically tracking requests for public records but can still take weeks to respond to relatively straightforward queries, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has found.

The newspaper made a records request to 22 key state agencies and officials to track their compliance with an order by Gov. Scott Walker in March 2016 seeking to strengthen the state's most important tool for providing information to the public.

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January 30, 2017 11:30 PM

Members of Congress, federal employee advocates and the general public have spoken out against recent White House directives on agency communications, and now Freedom of Information Act officers are weighing in on the open government debate.

National Archives and Records Administration Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Chairwoman Alina Semo told Federal News Radio that her personal feeling was agencies’ FOIA employees need to “continue to be good government servants.”

“Make access happen,” said Semo, adding that in NARA’s Office of Government Information Services, it’s business as usual sending out press releases and engaging with the public via social media.

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January 27, 2017 3:06 PM

Colorado lawmakers are making an effort to revive the state treasurer's demands for unfettered access to all records of the state's largest pension plan.

House Bill 17-1114, sponsored by Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, and Sen. Jake Tate, R-Centennial, would give the state treasurer access to any information kept by the Public Employees' Retirement Association (PERA).

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January 27, 2017 2:46 PM

A few days before President Trump's inauguration, MuckRock opened up a Slack channel to help journalists better cover him and his administration.

As of Wednesday, 250 people signed up. Most are journalists, about half from national newsrooms and half from local newsrooms around the country. Update: As of Thursday, 1,500 people have signed up.

"Anytime we have a new administration, there's turnover and there are changes," said Michael Morisy, MuckRock's co-founder. "I always think it's important for reporters to get an understating of what that new administration's priorities are. I think that's true no matter who's taking office."

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January 27, 2017 2:36 PM

The District of Columbia, citing the "novelty" of this Open Meetings Act enforcement action, got more time over the holidays for the mayor's Caribbean Community Affairs Commission to figure out its next step in the case. The commission is one of the D.C. mayor's many public advisory bodies, and is alleged to have failed in fulfilling the law's requirements to inform the public in advance about meetings and to furnish a record of each meeting promptly afterwards.

Filed in October 2016, the case is the first court action by the Office of Open Government, an independent agency created by the D.C. Council in the 2011 Act to be the enforcement watchdog. Prior complaints, including several by the Coalition, led to investigations and opinions by the Office requiring compliance.

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January 26, 2017 2:43 PM

The New York City Council’s Committee on Technology held an oversight hearing Tuesday to evaluate the progress being made by the city in tracking compliance by government agencies with the city’s open data law.

The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) has been conducting what is essentially an audit, the “Examination and Verification Plan,” to gauge each agency’s status regarding its publication of required data sets on the Open Data Portal, an online access point meant to open government to the public.

This means public information on everything from motor vehicle collisions to wifi hotspot locations to leading causes of death, which, in theory, allows regular New Yorkers to better evaluate city services, gives civic technologists more to work with in acting as an outside of government check, and encourages problem-solving using data.

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