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 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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February 19, 2015 12:58 PM

As students and journalists, knowing the ins and outs of what goes on at our University is important. Whether that means knowing where our money is going, what is happening with regards to administration, or who is coming to campus, we like to know it all. Requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act helps us do that. The act allows us to legally obtain this information and doing so allows us to gain better insight about happenings on our campus. The information and transparency of FOIA content is open to everyone.

Earlier this month, The Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, published a copy of the contract between musician Jack White and the university. This contract revealed that the University of Oklahoma spent $80,000 to get White to perform on campus.

The contract also listed very specific requests from White, who demanded that the University of Oklahoma not allow a single banana in his sight. Homemade guacamole, in contrast, had to be in the band’s dressing room, and the contract even included a recipe. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 12:53 PM

It looks like we won’t be seeing the real-life Mulder and Scully anytime soon, as least according to recently departed White House adviser John Podesta.

“Finally, my biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the #disclosure of the UFO files. #thetruthisstilloutthere,”he tweeted on Friday, his last day in the White House.

Podesta’s love of the “X-Files” TV show, along with his fascination with all things extraterrestrial, is well documented. Back in 2002 Podesta even discussed the importance of disclosing government UFO records at a conference organized by the Coalition for Freedom of Information. “I think it’s time to open the book on questions that have remained in the dark, on the question of government investigations of UFOs,” he said. “We ought to do it, really, because it’s right, we ought to do it because the American people, quite frankly, can handle the truth, and we ought to do it because it’s a law.” Continue>>>
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February 17, 2015 2:30 AM

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 17, 2015 2:27 AM

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s chief of staff ordered top city officials to respond to a public records request within 48 hours after the Globe reported it took the administration more than two months to provide basic payroll data.

Chief of staff Daniel Koh sent an e-mail Friday to the city’s Cabinet chiefs and department heads.

Koh wrote that if a response is not possible within 48 hours, a department must provide a detailed explanation. The response would be reviewed by Koh and the mayor, according to the memo. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2015 2:23 AM

I have a 20-year frustration about something in Texas, a problem I’ve never solved, an itch that won’t go away.

Texas has a remarkable law. It’s called the Texas Public Information Act. The TPIA is supposed to remove any steel doors protecting local, county, school and state governments from prying eyes — and replace them with glass walls.

Transparency. Sunshine. Openness. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2015 2:18 AM

A bill inspired by the Oakwood Hills power plant debacle to make it easier to report Illinois Open Meetings Act violations will likely get a minor tweak to help its odds of passage.

House Bill 175, filed last month by Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, seeks to allow people to report a violation of the act within 60 days of its discovery. Current law limits the reporting period to 60 days from the date of the meeting in question, meaning that violations discovered after that date cannot be reported to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

McSweeney said he likely will amend the bill to set a five-year limit on how far back an illegal meeting took place. While the bill generally has gotten positive feedback, McSweeney said, some lawmakers have raised concerns that people could make unduly burdensome requests for decades worth of meeting minutes. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2015 2:16 AM

Congress is currently considering changes to improve the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and that’s a good thing. While the FOIA is very useful, it’s not a silver bullet, and it’s certainly time to consider improving the Act.

During the course of the Obama Administration, Americans for Limited Government has filed hundreds of FOIA requests going to every Executive Branch department and many of the independent agencies.

How well these requests are handled varies widely. There have been times when we have requested records and those records have been released within a reasonable amount of time. Continue>>>
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