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 2, 2016 8:09 PM

Missouri Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-Affton, has been on a singular mission for months to restrict access to certain police records, not because it’s in the public’s best interests but because it fits her personal agenda.

She wants the entire public kept in the dark whenever anyone in Missouri commits or attempts suicide. It’s a private matter and simply not the public’s business, she suggests. Except that it actually is the public’s business, especially when a person who attempts suicide is an elected official like Montecillo.

We don’t want to appear callous regarding the history of childhood abuse that contributed to Montecillo’s suicide attempt last year. But for her to assert that the public had no interest and no right to know about the near death of a state legislator is absurd. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:06 PM

An Indiana Supreme Court decision is already having a negative impact on government transparency and access to records, just days after it was handed down, according to several Indianapolis attorneys.

On April 19, the Indiana Supreme Court effectively ruled state lawmakers can continue to withhold their email communications from public disclosure, including emails with constituents and lobbyists.

On April 22, attorney Bill Groth received another denial to a request he made under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for Governor Mike Pence’s communications. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:03 PM

An open government is a more honest and efficient government. But Ohioans often face unnecessary delays and obstacles when they ask for records that document what government is up to — either because public officials don’t know open-records laws, misinterpret them or purposely stall to cover up misdeeds.

Unless a citizen has tens of thousands of dollars and years to spend on a court lawsuit, he’s out of luck. Crooked or obstinate government officials know this, and use it to exploit the law.

A new bill proposed by Ohio Senate President Keith Faber would provide a much-needed fix, making it quick, cheap and easy for Ohioans to get a court order to produce denied records. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:00 PM

Both the state Freedom of Information Commission and the state's leading right-to-know advocacy group warned Friday that a proposed 20 percent budget cut for the commission — and the possible transfer of its public information officer into Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office — could greatly weaken state government transparency.

But the Senate chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, West Hartford Democrat Beth Bye, warned that the FOIC’s funding is far from settled, and many alternatives remain on the table.

“We are chipping away at the commission’s independence,” Colleen Murphy, executive director of the FOIC, said. “The beauty of the commission is that it doesn’t have to answer to any political party, philosophy, candidate or individual official.” Continue...

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April 29, 2016 5:00 PM

They call it “dark money” because it avoids the light of day. If the term sounds sinister to you, that’s because it is. And it has become the lifeblood of politics.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley knows a thing or two about it. So does Rebekah Caldwell Mason. While Bentley made a big deal about not accepting dark money in his campaign for governor, he turned around and paid Mason, his top “political adviser,” with dark money.

But the problem didn’t start with Bentley and Mason. It certainly isn’t limited to just this type of influence and it most definitely isn’t a new problem. And, as you may have guessed by now, the problem is bigger here than in most other states and it is growing. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:56 PM

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the University of Michigan's practice of holding some of its board meetings behind closed doors.

The ruling upheld a lower court's ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Detroit Free Press.

"The Constitution permits defendant to hold informal meetings in private; defendant is only required to hold its formal meetings in public," the ruling said. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:38 PM

Sending a so-called "still interested letter" to someone who requested responses under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act has an uncertain effect, an analysis found.

It's tough to measure these letters' effect on requesters, found part one of a study by the Compliance Team at the Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS, on the use of such letters by the 15 Cabinet-level agencies between fiscal years 1998 and 2014, according to an April 27 blog post by the National Archives' FOIA ombudsman.

That's due, in part, to the fact that no guidance or standard for reporting requests closed using the letters exist. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:35 PM

Should intercollegiate athletes have diminished expectations of privacy? Best-selling author Jon Krakauer and his attorney, Mike Meloy of Helena, say yes.

At the heart of Krakauer’s wide-ranging argument for the release of documents related to the decision to vacate former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson's expulsion after university proceedings found him guilty of sexual assault in 2013 is the contention that student-athletes aren’t subject to privacy laws due to their status as public figures.

Krakauer and Meloy argued that case Wednesday to the Montana Supreme Court during a records request hearing at the Strand Union Building at Montana State University. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:31 PM

The House voted unanimously Thursday to close a loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act that allowed public officials to avoid scrutiny by using private email to conduct official business.

SB 22 will close the loophole and make public officials’ private emails open records if they pertain to official business. Private emails on personal matters would remain private.

The issue gained attention last year when The Eagle reported that Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director had used a private email address to send a draft of the governor’s budget proposal to two lobbyists with ties to Brownback several weeks before it was presented to lawmakers. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 8:02 PM

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) and freelance journalist Peter St. Cyr have dismissed their lawsuit against the New Mexico Department of Health after the DOH amended its regulations that kept secret the names of licensed medical marijuana producers.

The lawsuit was filed last July in the state district court in Albuquerque, but NMFOG and St. Cyr stayed further action within weeks of the filing after DOH agreed to begin administrative procedures to remove the confidentiality provisions.

The suit also sought an order under the Inspection of Public Records Act directing the DOH to release the names of all such producers as well as applicants for producer licenses. Continue...

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Marijuana, New Mexico, NMFOG
April 28, 2016 7:58 PM

The first meeting this week of a special state commission on education funding has made clear that the panel has a lot to learn about government transparency and accountability.

The group flouted Maine’s open-meetings law by getting together behind closed doors. Each member of the commission could now face a hefty fine – and they should, if the public’s right to know is to stand for anything.

Those who came to Augusta for Monday morning’s education task force gathering could be forgiven if they thought they’d been transported to a New York nightclub with a rigorous screening policy. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 7:55 PM

Missouri's open records laws would not cover some farming data under a measure that has passed the Missouri Senate.

The legislation, which passed with a bipartisan majority of 25-6, would require state agencies to keep confidential the information farmers submit for voluntary agricultural programs, such as registration data for animal disease tracking programs. Anyone who improperly releases that information could be sued.

Supporters said strengthening privacy protections would encourage more farmers to participate in such programs, while critics of the bill said eroding the state's sunshine laws would set a bad precedent for government transparency. Continue...

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