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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April 3, 2015 2:15 PM

A notice the Obama administration placed in the Federal Register earlier this month seemed to confirm once and for all what many transparency advocates have treated as a given for years: The White House is beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

Well, not so fast.

The formal notice, awkwardly made public as many transparency advocates were celebrating Sunshine Week, officially withdrew long-dormant regulations that once created procedures for FOIA requests to part of the White House known as the Office of Administration. The George W. Bush White House actually stopped processing such requests about a decade ago. (They sat on one of mine for several years before sending a short letter saying they had no intention of fulfilling it.) Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:11 PM

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is on a mistaken tack by pushing to limit liability for violations of the state's open meeting law. The lobbyist's unrelenting efforts to choke off transparency and accountability in local municipalities should alarm any Vermonters who cares about open government.

The most disturbing thing about the situation is that VLCT essentially is using taxpayer funds to pay for their efforts to limit the public's right to know. The organization that lobbies the Legislature on behalf of cities, towns and villages is supported by dues paid by the local municipalities.

VLCT worked to revive a provision of a bill, S.114 that would have limited the "penalties, fines, and legal fess for the violations of the Open Meeting Law" to selectboards, school boards and city councils, as well as zoning boards, development review boards and planning commissions. Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 12:38 PM

The Sussex County Circuit Court Judge told the Waverly Town Council that they couldn’t meet this week because the mayor and town clerk had knowingly violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act and failed to comply with a provision of the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Taylor Everett, a resident who had repeatedly asked the town to produce public documents and notify him of upcoming meetings, brought the legal challenge against the town.

The court ruling prohibited the town council from meeting unless it followed the Open Meetings Law’s provisions, including notifying Everett and other members of the public. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:40 PM

Financial regulators and the banking industry are raising concerns about bipartisan legislation that would expand the public's access to government documents, according to lawmakers.

Members of Congress have sought to clarify that their proposals to update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would not erode protections that prevent the public from obtaining sensitive banking information that regulators see as part of their supervision of the financial sector.

And while regulators and the banking industry have remained publicly silent, lawmakers are echoing their private warnings. Before the House Oversight Committee approved a reform bill last week, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) unsuccessfully attempted to attach a clarifying provision to the legislation. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:36 PM

At the request of the governor and prosecutors, the Virginia State Police are investigating the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, but it’s unlikely the public will have access to much of the investigation.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows nearly all aspects of a criminal investigation to remain private, even after the investigation has closed. Law enforcement agencies can choose to release information from investigations but state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said that rarely happens in her agency.

An investigation was requested after pictures and videos of Johnson’s arrest show him on the ground with blood covering his face. Johnson’s attorney has stated that he needed 10 stitches. The agents have been put on administrative duties while state police review whether the incident violated policies. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:31 PM

House Bill 315 and its companion in the Senate is a top legislative priority for the Tennessee School Boards Association. Before pulling the bill, McDaniel kept the idea of new public records fees alive by saying the Office of Open Records Counsel has agreed to conduct public hearings in conjunction with the Advisory Committee on Open Government this summer on the proposal, and make a recommendation on the bill by January 2016.

Ann Butterworth is the open records counsel who would be in charge of making the final recommendation, according to McDaniel’s comments. Although McDaniel indicated discussions and hearings would include members of the Advisory Committee on Open Government. The advisory committee has 14 members and 3 ex-officio members, including the chairs of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and House State Government Committee.

The Tennessee Coalition on Open Government has a seat on the advisory committee, as do other civic groups such as the League of Women Voters and representatives from government such as the Tennessee School Boards Association and Tennessee Municipal League. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:26 PM

Emails again. We should probably consider this a learning-curve era. Also, we should expect more major and minor scandals and political fights involving public officials and their emails. After all, email has only been around for 40 or so years and in common use for more than 20.

Someday a policy will be worked out that everyone understands.

The latest entry into the email kerfuffle is Gov. Jack Markell. It was revealed in a recent News Journal article that he uses a pseudonym on a state email account. Two open government advocates say he should not and we agree. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:22 PM

Lawmakers stripped an education bill of major proposed changes to Indiana's open records laws on Thursday after concerns were raised about how the measure would impact all government agencies and not just schools.

The legislation aims to simplify school management by eliminating duplicate and obsolete reporting requirements that school administrators say are taking resources away from the classroom. But the legislation also included a provision that would allow government agencies to charge a fee for information that takes longer than two hours to gather.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said his colleagues have expressed concerns that the provision would impact all types of state agencies and therefore should be considered as a separate measure, not as part of an education bill. The bill was amended to remove that language during a hearing Thursday in the House Education Committee, which then unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the full House. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:13 PM

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave the green light to the once-dead Insure Tennessee proposal Wednesday.

High praise to those senators who made this significant victory happen. It showed leadership for the citizens of the state of Tennessee.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, pushed for the bill to be heard when the committee considered adjourning and finishing its long agenda another time. Continue>>>
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April 1, 2015 12:58 PM

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the crown jewels of the modern American republic. The law, which requires public access to most government documents and communications, has made it significantly easier for Americans and the journalists who inform them to hold government officials accountable.

In a day and age when government gets ever-bigger, FOIA protects Americans from being ruled in secret. Or at least, it does so when officials actually follow the law — which, unfortunately, they often do not.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of private email to conduct State Department business represents just one common method of frustrating the fulfillment of lawful FOIA requests. Another is for the government to charge outrageously high fees for disclosing documents that belong to the public. Continue>>>
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April 1, 2015 12:56 PM

Citizens United filed its fourth lawsuit against the State Department on Thursday, this time seeking documents related to the agency's Office of Inspector General during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tenure.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the conservative advocacy group complains that the State Department has not responded to two of its Freedom of Information Act requests in more than six months, beyond acknowledging receiving them. The statutory requirement is 20 business days.

The lawsuit follows the revelation that Clinton exclusively used a personal email account during her time as secretary of state. In December, her office sent 55,000 emails to the department, which the agency is now sorting through. Continue>>>
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April 1, 2015 12:46 PM

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, recently sought out information from seven universities pertaining to the funding of professors who allegedly stood in opposition to the “consensus” on climate change and had testified before Congress about climate change.

Grijalva requested information regarding the source of their research grants, as well as copies of the scientists’ financial disclosure forms.

Last week, the University of Delaware refused to provide information on the funding of professor David Legates. Patrick T. Harker, the school’s president, released a letter declaring that, “The University of Delaware chooses not to act in a manner inconsistent with its governing principles.” Continue>>>
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