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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January 29, 2016 11:06 PM

In most states, if journalists or citizens want to hold our elected officials accountable, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important tool in our political toolbox.

However, Michigan is among a small handful of states where the governor’s office and the state legislature are exempt from the FOIA. This means that documents and records can be kept from the public, except in rare occasions.

Governor Rick Snyder recently volunteered to release a batch of emails concerning the Flint water crisis, which highlighted the fact that Michigan has been ranked dead last in the country in transparency. Continue...

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January 29, 2016 10:58 PM

Minneapolis has relaunched its “Results Minneapolis” transparency program, broadening the focus from how well city departments run to how well the city is doing at tackling major issues like economic inequality.

The program, introduced a decade ago to give the public a closer look at the performance of city government, was put on hold in late 2014. The city had previously held weekly public conferences to share data on emergency response times, building permits and a host of other operations.

No reports were issued or public results meetings held in 2015, while officials said they were aligning the process with city goals. Continue... 

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January 28, 2016 5:43 AM

Two lawsuits that stem from the 2013 election involving Washington state and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association could soon be resolved in a Thurston County courtroom.

The state sued the trade group, also known as GMA, in late 2013 after the state said the organization knowingly concealed the source of millions of dollars used to fight voter initiative I-522, which would have required the labeling of genetically modified food.

More that $20 million was spent on the "NO I-522" campaign and the initiative was ultimately defeated.

Washington state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson said it was the largest amount of money ever concealed in a Washington state election. Continue... 

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January 28, 2016 5:38 AM

The Orlando Police Department plans to launch an open data portal in March that will detail the race, sex and age of sexual offenders as well as where and when sexual offenses have taken place in the city.

The website will feature location-specific maps, graphs, and detailed spreadsheets.

The police department is the only agency in Florida and just one of thirty agencies in the country planning to release such data as part of a White House Program called the Police Data Initiative. 

White House spokesman Caroline Bettinger-Lopez said agencies across the country are trying to learn the extent of sex crimes. “If you don’t know a situation, you can’t necessarily come up with tailored responses. This data is going to fill that gap here and serve as a template for other police departments.” Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:25 AM

The Flint water crisis loomed large over a hearing Tuesday on a state bill that would provide an exemption from Freedom of Information Act laws for some public documents surrounding cybersecurity and energy infrastructure in Michigan.

“We’re trying to strike a balance here to protect against people with evil intent,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.

The bill would allow companies to share information with state regulators about cybersecurity and critical energy infrastructure issues without fear that the documents would become public. Open government advocates, including the Michigan Press Association and the Coalition for Open Government, have opposed the bill, saying it's a step backward.

“It clearly favors operators of so-called critical infrastructure businesses. What is proposed allows the proverbial fox to guard the chicken house," said Jane Briggs Bunting of the Open Government coalition in a letter to the committee. "The ongoing temptation, post-9/11, is to close off all information. It's been done repeatedly and represents a grave threat to the ideals of a democracy and republic.” Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:15 AM

The Oregon Legislature is set to adopt new rules that will make it easier to see how legislation is created and how the state does business.

Senate and House leaders expressed bipartisan support for the changes Tuesday during an annual meeting with press before the legislative session starts Feb. 1.

A major change in the rules is that anonymous amendments to bills will no longer be allowed. Legislators will have their names attached to amendments, and there will be an option to note if a lobbyist sponsored the amendment.

"I think that's going to be huge," House Speaker Tina Kotek said in praise of the new rules. Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:10 AM

In Virginia, the Newport News City Council never took a public vote to authorize a $2 million settlement to a man in a recent wrongful conviction case — a common practice for local officials resolving lawsuits against the city that Freedom of Information Act experts say may violate state law.

The council authorized the city attorney to negotiate up to a certain undisclosed amount of money to settle the lawsuit in a closed session last year, but never took a public vote, City Attorney Collins L. Owens Jr. said.

Newport News city code designates who must authorize city settlements up to different amounts, but stops at $250,000. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:29 PM

Local government leaders in Florida are battling with open-government advocates over legislation that would leave it up to a judge to award attorney’s fees in public-records cases.

The bill (SB 1220) passed through a Senate panel Tuesday by a unanimous 3-0 vote, and the House version of the bill (HB 1021) won a committee’s approval on Monday.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, the Senate bill’s sponsor, said he’s only targeting a “cottage industry” of lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits on behalf of people filing “gotcha” requests with understaffed small local governments, not legitimate public records requests. “No one’s talking about the other side, when municipalities incur costs of their own attorney fees when they are frivolous cases,” Garcia said. “We’re only talking about one side.”

But Barbara Petersen, president of the news-media backed First Amendment Foundation, said the proposal “eviscerates our constitutional right of access by removing our ability to be assured of getting reimbursed for attorney’s fees when government has violated our rights.” Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:24 PM

A Georgia public interest law center is looking for ways to improve relations between police and the communities they serve as well as drive down the number of incidents involving police officers' use of force.

The Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is making recommendations that its leaders hope could start becoming law as early as this year.

"Like many of you, probably all of you, following the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in summer of 2014 and subsequent deaths, Georgia Appleseed began to think about what we could do to be helpful, to add value to the process," Rob Rhodes, the center's director of projects told a panel of state legislators. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:18 PM

The group that represents Vermont towns and cities would like to loosen the government’s public records and open meeting laws — but make nonprofit organizations subject to the same transparency requirements as the government.

The group envisions several changes to transparency laws in its 2016 Municipal Policy, the document that guides the group’s lobbying at the Statehouse this year.

“Our overarching goal would be to make both open meeting and public records workable systems for municipalities so that they’re able to comply,” said Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:14 PM

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the fundraising arm of North Dakota State University violated the state’s open records law.

Stenehjem said in a written opinion issued Monday that the North Dakota State University Development Foundation and Alumni Association violated state law when it refused to release the applications for people seeking to become its next president and CEO.

Stenehjem said The Forum newspaper in Fargo requested an opinion from the state after the foundation refused to release the original applications for the positions. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:07 PM

A Colorado state lawmaker is set to bring forward a bill that would block the courts from denying open records requests.

Watchdog.org obtained a draft of the bill by state Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, which would allow court rules to apply only to open records matters not directly covered by the Colorado Open Records Act.

"Under current law, a custodian of a public record can deny inspection if the inspection is prohibited by rules promulgated by the supreme court or by the order of any court," the draft says. "The bill clarifies that the rule or court order must relate to a matter that is not explicitly covered by open records laws." Continue...

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