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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March 24, 2017 12:21 AM

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear wants to join in an open records dispute between Kentucky State University and a student newspaper.

Beshear's office said Tuesday he filed a motion in Franklin Circuit Court seeking to intervene.

At issue is KSU's refusal to turn over records related to an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. The University of Kentucky's student newspaper is seeking the records.

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March 24, 2017 12:18 AM

Tennessee -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee recommended for passage legislation that would require members of the General Assembly to disclose when they receive trips paid by a person with an interest in public policy.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, came about after stories reported by The Tennessean of a Gulf Shores fishing trip hosted by a school voucher advocate, a trip to Europe for lawmakers to learn about “radical Islam,” and trips to tour a North Carolina school, also funded by a voucher proponent.

Overbey told the committee that his bill does not prohibit such travel gifts, but requires that lawmakers report it.

The legislation requires that the amount and source of funds be disclosed when paid by a person with an interest in a public policy of the state if the travel was for the purpose of informing or advising the member with respect to the policy.

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March 24, 2017 12:06 AM

The Colorado Senate endorsed a heavily amended version of the open-records modernization bill Tuesday evening, adding a broad exemption to bar the disclosure of records that “could endanger public safety or the operation of critical infrastructure.”

The new provision in SB 17-040, requested by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, would exclude such data from the definition of public records in the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

“It’s simply a security issue,” said Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican. “Some will say this (information) is already exempt. Obviously, the water community and the utility community are still concerned.”

The amendment affects records concerning bridges, tunnels, dams, airports and other infrastructure systems. Sen. John Kefalas, the Fort Collins Democrat who introduced SB 17-040, called the provision “very broad” and expressed concerns that it could require the removal of maps and other records currently available to the public on the internet.

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March 22, 2017 6:45 PM

Florida’s unique quest to update its state Constitution begins Monday as the 37-member commission meets for an organizational session in the Florida Senate chambers, and tensions have already started to mount behind the scenes.

The group, dominated by Republicans, will meet briefly for two hours, review its proposed rules and go over the state’s ethics and Sunshine laws. The draft rules, however, are already stoking some debate.

The First Amendment Foundation has asked the group to amend its rules to adhere to existing state law and others are raising questions about changes from 20 years ago that allow the group’s chair, Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County businessman who was selected to be chairman of the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, to consolidate power.

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March 22, 2017 6:37 PM

The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill Public Records Office has changed the way people make public records requests to the University.

They now use Next Request, a web-based portal, to field public records requests. Before this change, requests were made via email and displayed as open or closed on the public records website.

Gavin Young, senior director for the Public Records Office, said the University of New Mexico is the only other school using Next Request.

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March 22, 2017 3:43 PM

The Department of Homeland Security released its annual FOIA report for 2016. Acting Chief FOIA Officer Jonathan R. Cantor said in the report that DHS receives more FOIA requests than any other department, accounting for 40% of all FOIA requests made across the federal government. The bulk of these requests are made to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cantor also said that DHS's sizeable FOIA backlog has reduced despite an increase in requests.

The full report can be found on the DHS website.

March 22, 2017 12:07 AM

Two months into the Trump presidency, there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new administration. One big area of concern is how the executive branch will deal with the vast amounts of data collected by the government. Federal agencies like NASA and EPA conduct countless studies crucial to understanding our impact on climate change. Labor Department surveys are vital to determining the economic health of the country. Will the administration manipulate data that contradicts its political views? Will information become a tool of oppression? Turns out there's a simpler, but potentially just as troublesome possibility: The White House could simply make it disappear.

To be clear, President Trump can not personally go out and delete decades worth of information. The census continues to exist, and if you know where to look you can peruse data about demographics and population density to your heart's content. Instead, the administration seems focused on two avenues of attack: One, make data harder to find, and two, slash funding until collecting data becomes difficult for government agencies.

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March 22, 2017 12:03 AM

The House State Government committee unanimously passed H.B. 58 this week, which would make clear that citizens may send records requests by email to records custodians.

The email bill also contains a section meant to deal with multiple requests to view records from someone who never comes to review them, and requests for copies for which a person never pays for or retrieves.

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March 21, 2017 12:29 AM

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works with tech and other initiatives to make government more transparent, has released a new Tactical Data Engagement guide aimed at helping cities engage residents and improve communities with public data.

The guide is an effort to help elected officials and municipal government workers go past simply publishing mass amounts of data online, helping them to put information out there in a strategic way that fosters subsequent actions. In a release announcing the guide, Sunlight Foundation leadership emphasized that this is part of ongoing efforts to foster public access to government information, which should be free, open and online.

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March 21, 2017 12:27 AM

Michigan House members on Thursday passed bills that would make the governor, lieutenant governor and the Legislature accountable under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The package of 10 bills — a bipartisan effort — passed unanimously and now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate where its future is not so certain.

Republican Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering and Democratic Rep. Jeremy Moss of Southfield are lead sponsors. They said residents are demanding more transparency following the state's involvement in events like the Flint water crisis and a sex scandal involving two now-former members of the state House.

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March 20, 2017 11:11 PM

In January, CJR contributors published a selection of FOIA best practices, based on an analysis of more than 33,000 such requests. Among a number of conclusions, the analysis showed that individual practices (and the responses to them) can vary widely. I’d emphasize that using the Freedom of Information Act effectively is about more than preparing a request. Rather, it’s about the process: researching the agencies, following up with FOIA officers, appealing denials, and so on.

It’s critical, right now, that we make the best possible use of FOIA. President Trump has spent his first 50 days in office trolling the press, and a Knight study released this week shows that nearly 90 percent of freedom-of-information experts believe public access will get worse under Trump. One way for journalists to protect that access is to exercise the rights that guarantee it. January’s analysis was a step in that direction, gleaning lessons from successful requests. This effort, based on subject-matter expertise, complements it.

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March 20, 2017 12:52 AM

The Senate may take up a bill soon meant to prevent public agencies from deterring open records requests or using them as a revenue source by charging excessive fees.

The bill was scheduled for debate Wednesday afternoon, but was postponed.

Public agencies that testified against the bill have expressed concern it goes too far. But Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, has been pursuing such limits to what government can charge for a few years.

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