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 20, 2017 1:47 PM

Open government advocates and Iowa’s state universities are poised for a fight over whether federal copyright laws pre-empt state laws requiring government agencies to provide public access to state-generated documents and materials.

The staff of the Iowa Public Information Board has found the University of Iowa broke Iowa’s public records law by refusing to share its photos and video from the historic 2008 floods with a Cedar Rapids documentary filmmaker.

“Public records were not released as required by Iowa law,” Interim Board Director Margaret Johnson wrote in a report to the board this week. “The issue is whether invoking federal copyright protection excuses the violation.”

The UI asserts copyright law protects the creative works of its employees. But open government advocates say allowing the UI to keep these records confidential may open the door to agencies shielding all sorts of public records.

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January 20, 2017 1:42 PM

Covington's firefighters union asked the attorney general to determine whether the city of Covington violated open meetings laws by a delayed release of emails.

Attorney General Andy Beshear sided with the city, saying the city didn't take an unreasonable amount of time inspecting the 895 emails involved in the open records request.

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January 19, 2017 12:27 PM

Open government advocates are alarmed at a legislative subcommittee’s approval of a bill that would hide from the public record the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said House Bill 1678 would violate the public’s right to know about possible environmental and health hazards posed by fracking, in which liquids are injected into the ground to extract oil or gas.

“They would shield information from the public and local government and would jeopardize their ability to monitor public health,” Rhyne said.

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January 19, 2017 12:24 PM

The Utah State Tax Commission is keeping confidential the details of a new deal for Amazon — which makes an estimated 21 percent of all online sales — to collect sales tax for internet purchases made by Utahns.

The commission this week denied an open-records request for that information, filed by the Libertas Institute, a Salt Lake City-based group that says it fights for liberty.

Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts said Tuesday that disclosure is not required under Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). "The reason is it is commercial information and would provide undue advantage for competitors" if released, he said.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, disagreed.

"Taxpayers have a right to know what terms their government agreed to in order to have Amazon collect a tax that they are not legally required to. This agreement should be public for all to see," he said.

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January 19, 2017 11:35 AM

This should be a happy Access to Public Records Act story, but — spoiler alert — it’s not.

Valley Breeze reporter Ethan Shorey filed an APRA complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General when the City of Pawtucket refused to provide him a list of vacant and abandoned properties it routinely shared with members of the City Council. Three weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office ruled that the document needed to be handed over. So why is this ruling a loss for open government instead of a victory?

This episode demonstrates the enormous difficulties that the public has in holding public bodies accountable for violations of APRA and the cramped way that the AG, the state official responsible for enforcing this law, can approach APRA complaints.

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January 18, 2017 1:26 PM

How do you share open data in a meaningful way to help citizens convert data into knowledge about their city?

Over the past few months, the City of Boston’s Open Data team has worked to explore this essential question by placing our computers aside. In our quest to bring the Open Data to Open Knowledge project (funded by the Knight Foundation) to life, the team set out to host conversations to learn from everyday Bostonians.

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January 18, 2017 1:19 PM

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III served up a timely reminder last week for the state’s public officials when he issued an opinion that they cannot skirt open-government laws by outsourcing essential governmental functions.

In an advisory opinion issued Friday, Slatery wrote that any records obtained by a third party hired to conduct searches for new schools’ superintendents must be made available for public inspection and its meetings might be subject to the Open Meetings Act.

The opinion involves the Knox County Board of Education seeking hire a new schools superintendent and the likelihood of the board hiring a search firm to find candidates to replace outgoing Superintendent Jim McIntyre.

A search firm or other organization will have to comply with Tennessee's statutes on open government.

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January 18, 2017 1:17 PM

A top Democrat in the state Senate wants to shut off public access to the names and résumés of job applicants at public agencies statewide, a proposal already drawing strong opposition from transparency advocates.

The bill is one of hundreds expected to be debated as the Legislature begins its 60-day session today.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, has pre-filed a bill that would carve out a new exception to the state Inspection of Public Records Act, which guarantees public access to public records and says the public is entitled to the greatest amount of information possible about its government.

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January 17, 2017 1:00 PM

The California Supreme Court recently issued a closely split ruling in a case involving whether or not the legal bills from settled suits involving government entities within the state are public information. A member of an advocacy group wonders how the decision will affect taxpayers.

On Dec. 29, the court voted 4-3 that while the bills for long-settled legal matters could be accessed by the public, those invoices relating to current or pending litigation were protected by the purview of attorney-client privilege.

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January 17, 2017 12:57 PM

Following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing and lawsuits, Illinois’ Better Government Association (BGA) recently succeeded in forcing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release private emails that pertain to city business.

BGA effected a policy change through Cook County court rulings that public officials’ private emails are covered under FOIA.

After a legal tussle lasting over a year that included a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Tribune, the BGA expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

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January 17, 2017 12:55 PM

Just six months ago, [MuckRock] reported that the FBI had quietly changed their FOIA processing queues without alerting anyone or updating their website. And now, once again, the Bureau has changed their standards for FOIA processing - before a request had to be 2,500 pages or more to be classified as large or complex. Now, without any announcement or update to the Bureau’s website, the number’s down to 51 pages.

According to the FBI’s website as of publication, a request still has to be 951 pages or more to qualify as large or complex. However, according to correspondence the FBI sent on December 8th, the medium track for FOIA requests has been eliminated entirely.

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January 13, 2017 9:52 AM

It’s optimistic to believe that this (or really any) legislative session in Virginia will make a turn toward openness and away from punching holes in the law that ensures public access to documents and meetings.

But maybe, just maybe, this could be a session where lawmakers choose to hold the line on those principles and act with deference toward the people’s right to know.

The most significant bills on the subject offered in this year’s session are the omnibus packages produced by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council’s three-year study of the commonwealth’s open government law.

As has been outlined repeatedly on these pages and elsewhere around the state, the changes sought in an effort to modernize the Freedom of Information Act fall far short of the ideal.

Virginia’s FOIA includes more than 170 exemptions that have, over time, eroded its effectiveness as a crowbar to pry loose documents that should be public and to pry open the doors of meeting rooms that should not be closed. Continue…
 

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