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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June 1, 2015 10:23 AM

Attorneys for House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court, seeking information about Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart.

Hart is serving as state prosecutor in the ethics case against Hubbard, who was indicted last year on 23 felony charges of using his current office and former role as chairman of the state Republican Party for personal gain. Al.com first reported the FOIA request Friday evening.

Hubbard’s team is seeking information about Hart while he served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.  Continue>>>

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May 29, 2015 2:11 PM

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced improvements for public participation and transparency through a new online engagement system. DEP's new online eComment system allows the public to more easily access Technical Guidance Documents and other policy-related proposals open for comment. The public can also view all support documentation, submit comments online, and view the full text of all public comments submitted.

"By publishing technical guidance comments as we receive them, anyone interested in a proposed policy will be able to read the comments and concerns raised by others online while the comment period is still open," DEP Acting Secretary John Quigley said. "This more open and upfront process will lead to more meaningful engagement with the public and result in more effective policies."  Continue>>>

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May 29, 2015 11:12 AM

The watchdog group Cause of Action is suing the Justice Department for records on what is says are possible unethical disclosures of confidential taxpayer information to the White House, the organization announced Thursday.

The group discovered in April that attorneys from the Justice Department’s tax division, some of whom were also involved in litigation over the IRS targeting scandal, were being detailed to the White House to conduct background checks on potential executive nominees.  Continue>>>

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May 29, 2015 11:05 AM

Unifying for Florence, a local advocacy group, filed a public records request for three years worth of emails between top officials in Florence Unified School District. The district responded, saying the information was available for a price:  $42,202.50.

Using simple math, the district is saying Superintendent Amy Fuller exchanges an average of 118 pages of email with her assistant superintendents and board members each day, including weekends and holidays.

“We have not had a (FOIA) request to that magnitude before,” Fuller said.  Continue>>>

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May 28, 2015 1:12 PM

Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a former financial executive elected in 2014, has announced a landmark proposal to increase transparency at the state’s pension fund. Unlike dozens of states around the country, Rhode Island will now disclose the full range of fees and expenses it pays to investment managers and will fully disclose those managers’ performance.

“It really comes down to a basic principle,” said Magaziner, who announced the proposal Tuesday. “When you're managing public funds, the public has the right to know.”

In many states, details of public pension investments have become closely guarded secrets known only to lawmakers and financial executives hired to manage the savings of teachers, firefighters, cops and other government employees. From Florida to Illinois, states across the country have passed laws exempting financial details of these public investments from open records laws.  Continue>>>

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May 28, 2015 12:52 PM

In response to a State Department proposal to incrementally release former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails every two months, a federal judge ordered Wednesday that the department instead disclose them every 30 days.

Justice Department lawyers representing the State Department offered in a Tuesday court filing to start posting Clinton’s emails on the department’s Freedom of Information Act website on June 30, with “rolling productions” made public every 60 days.

“The Department is keenly aware of the intense public interest in the documents and wants to get releasable materials out as soon as possible,” the lawyers wrote on Tuesday. “Furthermore, the Department will continue to explore ways to devote more resources to this effort, consistent with its other obligations, to complete the review even earlier.”  Continue>>>

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May 28, 2015 11:05 AM

A veteran has sought information about Fort McClellan’s chemical contamination from the Department of Defense since last year, but his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has gone unanswered.

Raymond Pulliam – a 53-year-old veteran – was forced to retire in 2012 due to health issues he believes were caused by toxic contamination at Fort McClellan, where he was stationed in 1979 for basic training.

A previous report from Breitbart News and The Washington Times exposed a high-ranking official’s email putting budget concerns over veteran health issues tied to Fort McClellan.  Continue>>>

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May 28, 2015 10:53 AM

The Obama Administration is in a legal showdown over claims that officials are using the prospect of sky-high fees to try to block requests for government records under the Freedom of Information Act.

At a court hearing Wednesday, a non-profit research institute based at Syracuse University—the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse—complained to a federal judge that the government is arbitrarily denying the organization status as an educational organization and a member of the news media, designations that would allow the group to escape most of the fees that can be charged for FOIA requests.

During almost an hour of arguments on the issue, U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper sounded sympathetic to TRAC's claims and, at times, incredulous of the government's position in the case.  Continue>>>

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May 28, 2015 10:40 AM

“The state Legislature made some changes to the Freedom of Information Act (at the end of 2014),” Township Manager Bill Cargo said. “These were the first major changes since the act was instituted.”

The impending changes include significant new requirements for municipalities and will change how the township responds to requests for information. According to Cargo, changes of this magnitude are unprecedented in FOIA’s nearly 40-year history.

“We have to have this information in place by July 1,” Cargo said, noting that is when the new regulations take effect. “If we don’t, we won’t be able to charge a fee for FOIA requests.”  Continue>>>

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May 21, 2015 9:47 AM

AUSTIN — Texans are likely to get greater access to campus police records and public meetings online.

But after a group secretly taped lawmakers in Austin, some are wary of legislation that could make it harder to record audio without the consent of all recorded.

A variety of bills still in play in the final days of the legislative session will affect government transparency, and so far, major legislative efforts are falling on the side of open government.  Continue>>>

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May 21, 2015 9:24 AM

Virginia won't be adding criminal penalties to its Freedom of Information Act any time soon.

The state's FOIA Council shot that proposal down Wednesday afternoon without even needing to send it to a subcommittee for study.

House Bill 2223, from Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, would have made the deliberate refusal to release public information a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill passed the House of Delegates earlier this year on a nearly unanimous vote, but the state Senate sent it to the FOIA Council – an appointed group that focuses on Virginia's open records and meetings laws – for further study.  Continue>>>

May 21, 2015 9:09 AM

Suffolk, Va. – A review of thousands of police replies to citizens seeking public records shows most Hampton Roads departments follow the law, even if they only release the minimum required. However, NewsChannel 3 found dozens of instances where citizens were improperly denied records, where police cited the wrong codes and exemptions, or where authorities failed to cite the specific reasons they were withholding documents.

Suffolk police, for example, wrote dozens of denials saying requests involved “current investigative information or material pending a court hearing.” That phrase is not found anywhere in the act’s exemptions. Suffolk usually followed that phrase by citing a code section — 2.2-3706 (A) — which is the entire police-records section of FOIA. The law says police must cite a specific exemption.

NewsChannel 3 provided the responses to Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. She said Suffolk’s responses were overly broad, and used cut-and-paste, form-letter language that didn’t serve citizens.  Continue>>>

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