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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May 5, 2016 9:19 PM

A Texas Supreme Court decision last year that one open records advocate said "blew a hole in the Texas Public Information Act" has been used in the past few months to shield records ranging from Uber's driver information in Houston to how much singer Enrique Iglesias was paid for a McAllen Christmas concert.

The 7-1 decision, in the Boeing v. Paxton case, was issued on June 19. In it, the justices decided businesses can assert in Texas that information they turn over to a government agency that could give competitors an advantage can be withheld from public review.

Lowering the standard for claiming a competitive advantage worries public access advocates and some lawmakers because of its potential for abuse. Companies can claim a long list of details they provide to public agencies are secret because they could give someone in their industry a leg up."We are just now starting to see the effects of it and it does widely expand this claim of competitive advantage," said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Continue... 

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May 4, 2016 7:40 PM

After nearly three years of study, dozens of regular and committee meetings, and thousands of hours in effort, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council appears poised to recommend legislation largely unchanged from the dreadful law it was tasked to fix.

The council has posted on its website a reorganized draft of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the commonwealth’s most important open government statute, and it looks frustratingly similar to existing law.

The Virginia FOIA was last updated in 2000. Since then, it has been weakened by exemptions added by lawmakers at the behest of narrow constituencies. Continue...

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May 4, 2016 7:35 PM

Gov. Rick Snyder has released thousands of pages of executive office emails voluntarily in the wake of the Flint water crisis, but legislation pending in the House would make disclosures routine by subjecting the governor to the Freedom of Information Act.

Bipartisan bills were introduced last month by Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, would subject the governor to FOIA, an act which details response timelines and which records are subject to disclosure upon citizen request.

The bills would also create a separate Legislative Open Records Act to create similar disclosure requirements for members of the legislature. Continue...

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May 4, 2016 7:31 PM

After recent controversy, the US Congress has asked for Freedom of Information Act exemptions for organizations promoting agricultural products, including groups behind promotional campaigns such as “Pork, the other white meat.”

Although the US Department of Agriculture oversees advertising campaigns for different agricultural industries, which range from the meat and egg industry to Christmas tree organizations, the industries themselves pay for promotional campaigns.

After a controversy involving the American Egg Board last year, which arose when it was revealed through public records requests that the group had attempted to prevent eggless mayonaise sales at Whole Foods, several agricultural industries called for exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. Continue...

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May 4, 2016 7:27 PM

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott lectured the Republican National Committee on the need to "be transparent."

It was like Alex Rodriguez warning Little Leaguers not to use steroids. Acting as Donald Trump's surrogate, Scott told RNC members at their meeting in Hollywood to avoid "tricks" or "stunts" that might impede Trump's path to the presidential nomination.

The governor wants everything public. For others. Not for him. Continue...

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May 4, 2016 7:24 PM

The biggest problem with the campaign-finance system is also the hardest to correct: the escalating millions spent on politics behind a veil of secrecy. On its face, this should be an easy problem to fix. Why not simply require donor disclosure for all campaign activities?

The hard part is that many groups that claim to be engaging in advocacy or public education are actually making political expenditures. The courts have ruled that advocacy groups have a right to keep their donors private, lest the government tread on constitutionally protected free speech.

But that means that disclosure rules must be carefully crafted to protect both voters’ right to know who is paying for American elections, and organizers’ rights to petition the government without harassment or intrusion. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 7:40 PM

The Municipality of Anchorage has adopted an open data policy, to boost transparency through heightened community access to government information and data.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz explained, “Open data is really an important way of making sure information that the city collects, is available to everyone who lives here, and anyone who want to use it. It’s about having a transparent and efficient form of government.” Five initial areas will be focused on including housing, public health, public safety, finance and transportation.

The Mayor stated, “We have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people; people should know what kind of information we are collecting and should be able to use that information to either help make government more efficient, more effective, or to be able to use it and develop private alternatives." Continue...

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May 3, 2016 7:37 PM

A private prearranged discussion of public business by the majority of a public body’s members either face-to-face or by other means such as telephone, e-mail, text, or tweet, violates the Ohio Open Meetings Act, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a 5-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled former Olentangy Local School District Board of Education member Adam White can pursue his lawsuit against the school board for violating the Open Meetings Act. White alleged the violation happened when the board president sparked an exchange of e-mails with the other board members and school officials to respond to a newspaper editorial. The decision, authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, reverses the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which approved a trial court’s dismissal of White’s suit.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote the General Assembly has not applied the Open Meetings Act to e-mails and other forms of electronic communication, and an e-mail exchange by public officials would only be a violation if they prearranged a “real-time” exchange to subvert the law. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:12 PM

In what could be a blow to public access to Maine’s State House proceedings, Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, is questioning whether legislative committee meetings should continue to be recorded and archived.

Streamed online, the public meetings of the Legislature and its standing committees are available to anyone with an Internet connection. The sessions are also digitally recorded and are made available upon request to those who ask for them. Also streamed, recorded and archived are the proceedings of the state House and Senate. 

While Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, the state’s open meetings and public records law, requires the Legislature and almost all elected bodies in Maine to conduct the vast majority of their business in public, there are no requirements those proceedings be broadcast or digitally recorded. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:08 PM

A recent Congressional Research Service report compared and contrasted two Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, reform bills that are working their way through Congress.

Both bills – the Senate's FOIA Improvement Act (S 337) and the House's FOIA Act (HR 653) – would increase public access, including through electronic means; establish a statutory "presumption of openness," meaning that agencies can withhold information only if disclosing it would harm an interest protected by statutory exemption or law; and create a Chief FOIA Officers Council, responsible for informing FOIA administrators of best practices, according to the April 21 report.

Other shared goals included clarifying the right to request information related to intra- and interagency communication, standardizing agencies' use of search and duplication fees, and requiring agencies to notify requesters of the status of their requests and of dispute resolution processes for requests that they believe have been wrongly denied. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:04 PM

Accidents reports in Arkansas must be open to the public without the redaction of personal information, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 5-2 decision, the court upheld a Pulaski County circuit judge's ruling that Little Rock lawyer Daniel Wren is entitled under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to obtain unredacted accident reports from the Arkansas State Police.

Wren sought the reports so he could identify potential clients. The Arkansas State Police argued that it was required by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 to redact personally identifying information from accident reports. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:12 PM

On April 28, the leaders of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary sent Gene L. Dodaro, the U.S. comptroller general, a letter requesting the General Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a comprehensive review of the federal government's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The authors of the letter — Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa along with Sens. Charles Grassley, Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn — requested that the GAO produce reports on seven topics. Continue...

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