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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July 1, 2014 1:03 PM

State Sen. Lloyd Smucker is making headway in his efforts toward a more transparent and accountable state government.
Smucker, a West Lampeter Township Republican, is chairman of the Senate State Government Committee.

His committee recently approved legislation that would strengthen the state’s Right to Know Law as it pertains to Penn State and the three other “state-related” universities in Pennsylvania. Existing law requires little of Penn State and the other three, beyond their federal 990 form and an annual list of the 25 highest-paid employees.

This is so, despite the fact that these universities receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money each year. Meanwhile, the 14 universities that fall under the umbrella of the State System of Higher Education, including Millersville, are entirely subject to the state’s Right to Know Law. Continue>>>
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July 1, 2014 1:01 PM

A fascinating little open-government bill called Proposition 42 passed easily in California on Tuesday. The bill does, in the main, two things. It adds a requirement to the California constitution that city governments comply with two state transparency laws, the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act. And it requires those local governments, and not the state, to pick up the tab for whatever it costs to abide by those rules — a financial burden that the Legislative Analysts’ Office (LAO), the California legislature’s in-house policy advisors, has saidcould amount to tens of millions of dollars a year.

It might not be immediately clear why sticking oft-cash-strapped cities with a tab for transparency is being heralded as a major open-government win, so let’s dive in, starting with a brief bit of California legislative history. In 2013, California approved letting the state off the hook for reimbursing local governments for the work undertaken to comply with parts of transparency laws, but this created something of a loophole that allowed cities to avoid opening their records on the grounds that they couldn’t afford it. Then talk turned to the idea that if the law had been in place in 2010, reporters might not have gotten the records to expose a cover-up in the scandal-soaked southern California city of Bell, where open-records requests led by the Los Angeles Timesrevealed that astronomical salaries were being awarded to scores of city officials, including city manager Robert Rizzo. Enter Prop 42, which eliminates the ability of cities and towns to skirt those transparency laws on financial grounds.

Prop 42 had passed both houses of the California legislature with no opposition. And while the state Green Party had urged a “no” vote — “Transparency in government,” it said, “should not be dependent upon the finances or practices of any particular local government agency” — the act otherwise had broad support, including that of the state Republican and Democratic parties, the League of Women Voters of California, and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Continue>>>
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July 1, 2014 1:00 PM

Eric Gillespie, Founder and CEO of Govini and an expert in transparency in government, has been appointed to the newly formed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.

The federal government has worked to ensure global support for Open Government principles to promote transparency, fight corruption, energize civic engagement and leverage new technologies in order to strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own nation and abroad. In support of these principles, it launched the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) -- a set of 26 commitments that have increased public integrity, enhanced public access to information, improved management of public resources, and given the public a more active voice in the policy making process. As defined by NAP, the FOIA Advisory Committee fulfills part of the Administration's objective to foster dialogue between the Administration and the requester community, solicit public comments, and develop consensus recommendations for redefining FOIA administration and proactive disclosures.

"Using technology to make government information and processes more open and transparent has been a driving force in my career," Gillespie said. "It is a great honor to participate on the FOIA Advisory Committee with such an esteemed group. I look forward to contributing a technology entrepreneur's perspective to modernizing FOIA, and to furthering civic discourse." Continue>>>
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July 1, 2014 12:55 PM
Government transparency advocates are urging the Illinois General Assembly to opt against overriding Gov. Pat Quinn's recent veto of a bill that would "damage" the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
 
The FOIA legislation, HB 3796, is a "step in the wrong direction" that would hurt the public's right to access important government data and information, said Alden Loury, senior policy analyst at the Chicago-based Better Government Association, an independent, non-partisan government watchdog group.
 
"We applaud Governor Quinn for taking this [veto] action and we implore the General Assembly to follow his lead and not override this bill," Loury said at a Monday morning press conference at the James R. Thompson Center. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:10 AM

Gov. Jack Markell today signed into law a package of House bills sponsored by that expand and strengthen Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act. The bills were introduced in early May and passed both chambers of the General Assembly with unanimous votes.

The new laws cover posting of meeting minutes, mailed FOIA requests, publishing of annual reports and education of FOIA coordinators. The package represents a continuing effort to broaden government transparency and allow citizens to stay up-to-date with their state and local public agencies and more easily access public records and documents.

“In 2009, we brought the General Assembly under the FOIA umbrella, and since then we’ve routinely drafted and passed bills that expand FOIA in various ways,” said Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. “This effort is ongoing and there’s always more we can do to promote the public’s right to know.” Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:09 AM

The ongoing feud over the transparency of state pension fund investments between state Treasurer Janet Cowell and the State Employees Association of North Carolina has spawned dueling bills in the state legislature.

A bill backed by SEANC would make a wealth of investment information available as public records --- including all fees related to investments made by the $87 billion pension fund. The Cowell-supported bill would keep confidential and "trade secret" information about investments made by money managers under wraps until five years after an investment contract has concluded.

So far, the bill backed by Cowell, a Democrat, has gained more traction in the Republican-led legislature. The House State Personnel Committee endorsed it by a voice vote on June 18; it's now in the Appropriations Committee. Three of the four primary sponsors of the bill are Republican. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:08 AM

Vermont’s senior U.S. senator wants more transparency in government. Unfortunately, Vermont’s governor insists on less.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it harder for government officials to conceal information from the public. Leahy’s bill, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, helps citizens peer inside government by closing a loophole in one of nine exemptions commonly used to reject freedom of information requests. The legislation also requires agencies to adopt a “presumption of openness” when responding to FOIA requests.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our nation’s most important laws, established to give Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” Leahy said in a statement. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:06 AM

Sorry, political junkies: Your chance to tune in to state Assembly committee meetings online died at the end of the legislative session last week.

Yes, that may sound slightly less fun than watching paint dry. But for those interested, a proposal to require webcasts of legislative committee meetings could have offered a new window on how state lawmakers decide which proposals make it to the floor and which never see the light of day. The state Senate already offers such video, but the Assembly does not.

This measure was among a handful of bills that advocates hoped would make government's inner workings more accessible to the public, but were left on the table at the end of the session. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:05 AM

It’s become more than apparent since its passage in 1998 that Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act has holes that need to be filled if we are ever to ensure truly open government. Efforts have been made to amend the act and tighten its language, but it seems our Legislature has had more important things to do.

Jim Christiana is the latest state representative to propose changes to improve transparency and participation in open meetings. You may recall that Christiana is the Beaver County legislator who, through shameless gerrymandering, represents a portion of Washington County, some of which is a half day’s journey from his home.

Christiana proposes to amend the law to mandate making agendas available to the public at meeting locations and online, requiring items to be voted on to be advertised before meetings and ensuring that items omitted from the agenda are not voted on during meetings. The legislator cited continuing issues in Beaver County as his chief reason for seeking the reform. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:04 AM

The campaign of state Rep. TOM CROSS for state treasurer thinks it is not fair that freedom of information requests to the House and Senate have been handled very differently.

The office of the House clerk released hundreds of pages of documents about the 21 years spent by Cross, a Republican from Oswego, in the Illinois House. Among those asking for the documents was ZACH KOUTSKY, campaign manager for state Sen. MIKE FRERICHS, D-Champaign, who is the Democratic candidate for treasurer.

But the Senate president's office, asked by a consultant to the Cross campaign for information about Frerichs' seven years in the Senate, so far has asked that the request be narrowed, but has not released the information. Much, but not all, of the information sought is similar. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:51 PM

Today Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, commonly known as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) warriors, upped the ante in their fight for more transparency from the CIA relating to its Bush-era torture and rendition program. Leopold, a freelance investigative journalist, and Shapiro, a researcher at MIT, have filed a lawsuit against the CIA compelling the agency to release documents about their spying on Senate lawmakers who were tasked with investigating CIA torture.

It was revealed in March that the CIA were spying on the computers of congressional staff working on an extensive report looking into the torture program. The allegations sparked outrage, even from the spy agency's stalwart defenders, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said such surveillance "may have undermined the constitutional framework” of congressional oversight.

This has become a case of secrecy shrouding furtiveness shrouding secrecy: A classified report compiled by the Senate Intelligence Committee that was investigating a highly covert CIA program of torture, which was secretly spied upon by agents, who are now refusing to be transparent about this surveillance. Following the CIA's refusal to respond to an original FOIA request, Leopold and Shapiro are taking their attempt to undo this tight knot of government secrecy to court. Continue>>>
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June 24, 2014 11:49 PM

In Gainesville, Fla., it doesn’t take a Freedom of Information request to find out what city officials are chattering about on email. One merely has to go online and read them.

That city recently began posting email correspondence about public business to and from the mayor and the city commissioners. There may be other localities doing it as well, but this is the first one that’s been brought to my attention.

I must give credit to another FOIA blogger, this one from a member of the Society of Professional Journalists who calls the blog “FOI FYI.” The emails can be accessed by date, specific mailboxes, or by specific words in either the subject line or body of the email. You can even export them into a file for further use. Continue>>>
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