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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April 19, 2016 8:13 PM

Pennsylvania is renewing its commitment to transparency.

On April 18, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who assumed office in January, signed an executive order to create an open data portal. The new portal is mandated to contain downloadable, machine-readable data, a feature not offered by the state’s existing transparency site called PennWATCH. The state Office of Administration is also mandated to help agencies find their most valuable data sets.

“One of our most valuable and underutilized resources in state government is data,” Wolf said in a press release. “Our goal is to make data available in order to engage citizens, create economic opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs, and develop innovative policy solutions that improve program delivery and streamline operations.” Continue...

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April 19, 2016 8:08 PM

Sunlight Foundation: Earlier this year, we asked you to help us find out which Democratic superdelegates are also lobbyists. We didn’t want to limit it to just registered lobbyists, because there’s an increasing number of people in Washington who do what most of us would think of as lobbying activity, but avoid registering — known as “shadow lobbyists.” 

But that left us, and our readers, with some questions: What exactly is a shadow lobbyist? How do they avoid registering? How did we get here? Continue...

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April 19, 2016 8:03 PM

The state Public Records Board used contradictory messages to describe its decision last summer to expand what kinds of records could be destroyed immediately.

To the public and news organizations, the message was: The board made a routine clarification that was not "substantive." That was the explanation given by Matthew Blessing, the board's chairman, in downplaying why the board did not even give advance public notice by putting the matter on its Aug. 24 agenda.

But to state employees, the message was: The board made "significant changes" to which records are considered to have only temporary usefulness and can be destroyed. Continue...

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April 19, 2016 8:00 PM

Across the state, law enforcement agencies are adding body cameras to their arsenal of tools.

While generally supported by both department heads and city leaders, the move is sparking a new debate over who gets to watch the video.

With more and more cameras hitting the streets, many are worried that a tool meant to add transparency could wind up invading someone’s privacy, even possibly exposing crime victims or juveniles to the public. Continue...

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April 19, 2016 7:55 PM

Kentucky will pay the state's two largest newspapers nearly $700,000 to settle a long-running dispute over access to records of child abuse deaths and serious injuries.

The agreement ends seven years of litigation that resulted in far-reaching public access to state social service records in cases where children die or are seriously injured by abuse or neglect.

"We've been successful in changing the system for the benefit of children in Kentucky," said Jon Fleischaker, a lawyer for the Courier-Journal. "It's been a hugely successful endeavor." Continue...

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April 18, 2016 6:57 PM

South Carolina’s high court has shed light on documents in a dispute between Attorney General Alan Wilson and a special prosecutor he appointed to oversee a legislative corruption investigation.

Unsealed late Thursday were papers that Wilson had filed in response to Solicitor David Pascoe.

The documents include Wilson’s legal defense for his decision to dismiss Pascoe, saying the prosecutor doesn’t have authority to challenge the chief of the state grand jury in court and also reiterating previous comments that the attorney general recused himself, not his entire office, from the probe. Continue...

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April 18, 2016 6:50 PM

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley rolled into office on the promise of "transparency."

"Transparency promotes government accountability, and as elected officials, we are held accountable for our decisions by the people we serve," he said. It was like his motto.

Alabama "deserves transparency in everything we do." Yep.

''If you have things to hide, then maybe you're doing things wrong."

''I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.'' '

'I believe in transparency."

Yep, yep yep.

He even made a big deal — over and over again — of releasing his tax returns. But all of that changed. Continue...

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April 18, 2016 6:45 PM

The process by which police officers are disciplined in Maryland has long been shrouded in secrecy. But bills passed by the legislature this year should allow citizens more of a peek behind the curtain.

Civilians will be included in the training process for officers, and internal disciplinary hearings will be made public. Residents could get a seat at the table to decide the outcome of those hearings.

But just what those outcomes are will not be released to the public. And records related to discipline will continue to be withheld — though those who make the complaints will be able to learn if punishment was handed down. Continue...  

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April 18, 2016 6:41 PM

First Amendment concerns didn’t prevent a panel of state lawmakers from endorsing a prohibition against medical marijuana advertising that is likely to reach youths under 18.

The House Finance Committee voted 9-2 in favor of HB 16-1363, despite some opinions that it’s an unconstitutional violation of commercial free speech.

The Colorado Press Association and Colorado Broadcasters Association question the legality of the bill as well as existing restrictions on recreational pot advertising. But several committee members disagreed with that interpretation, saying their priority is the safety of children. Continue...

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April 18, 2016 6:34 PM

Want to learn more about how to make a proper OPRA request and what records you can access? Want to ensure your town better complies with public meeting rules?

Join the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government at the Cranford Community Center the evening of April 26th for a discussion of the state’s open public records and meetings laws (OPRA and OPMA). This event is being provided at no cost to attendees thanks to our sponsor, the Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA).

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the laws that provide access to public meetings and documents, allowing citizens greater insight into the operations of state and local governments in New Jersey. Continue...

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April 15, 2016 7:56 PM

A healthy system of self-government — something Rhode Island, unfortunately, lacks — depends on public access to information about the activities of those who hold power in the people’s name.

This is something the public must insist on, because when politicians get to decide whether privacy or disclosure should take precedence, it is a safe bet the politicians will come down against the public.

It’s not hard to figure out why: public disclosure makes it harder for politicians to dodge accountability and to give special treatment to favored allies. The politicians who have plied their connections to win lifetime seats on the Rhode Island Supreme Court obviously feel the same. Continue...

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April 15, 2016 7:53 PM

Legislation introduced this week in the House would allow the public to request National Security Council records under the Freedom of Information Act, restoring the status quo that existed until a court ruling two decades ago effectively put the council beyond the reach of the federal government's pre-eminent transparency law.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) filed the bill, citing reports of major growth in the National Security Council's size, as well as accusations from former officials that the National Security Council micromanaged military commanders in the field.

In recent years, such complaints have been aired publicly by former Defense secretaries Bob Gates, Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta. The trio's objections were also prominently featured in a Fox News special broadcast earlier this month. Continue...

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