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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February 10, 2017 9:59 PM

The Florida First Amendment Foundation has awarded Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis its top award for his battle with the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast to ensure the EDC complied with Florida's public records laws.

The Tallahassee-based foundation cited Ellis' "tenacious struggle to obtain records" from the EDC in giving him the Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award.

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February 10, 2017 9:58 PM

Since Kansas City unveiled a “smart” streetcar system last year, the city’s all-connected infrastructure has made it into something of a test lab for hopes — and fears — about the Internet of Things. Yesterday, the Missouri city shared its first compilation of data with a number of city and national leaders, hoping to help not just municipalities but also the federal government set “standards and best practices for big data use,” according to a press release.

As Henry Grabar reported for Next City in 2015, Kansas City’s streetcar is oh-so-much-more than public transit, making up the “spine of a body of sensors, screens and wireless Internet.” LED streetlights respond to movement, public WiFi covers a number of downtown blocks, and kiosks along the route broadcast information about transportation and city services — all with an undercurrent of public-private partnership thanks to Cisco and Sprint and more.

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February 10, 2017 9:48 PM

The city of Anchorage on Wednesday launched a new website aimed at making important data more accessible to residents, businesses and public officials.

So far the site includes data on crime, homelessness and property appraisal as well as inspection results for restaurants and childcare facilities. Brendan Babb, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, says the project is still a work in progress and will likely have new features added in the future.

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February 9, 2017 8:35 PM

While most companies are created and operated for legitimate economic activity,  there is a small percentage that aren’t. Entities involved in corruption, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion frequently use such companies as vehicles for their criminal activity. “The Idiot’s Guide to Money Laundering from Global Witness” shows how easy it is to use layer after layer of shell companies to hide the identity of the person who controls and benefits from the activities of the network. The World Bank’s “Puppet Masters” report found that over 70% of grand corruption cases, in fact, involved the use of offshore vehicles.

For years, OpenCorporates has advocated for company information to be in the public domain as open data, so it is usable and comparable. It was the public reaction to Panama Papers, however, that made it clear that due diligence requires global data sets and beneficial registries are key for integrity and progress.

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February 9, 2017 7:51 PM

A media watchdog group filed suit on Tuesday to force U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency to release records detailing his communications with energy companies ahead of a Senate vote to confirm his nomination.

The lawsuit was filed in Oklahoma court by the Center for Media and Democracy and accuses Scott Pruitt, who is Oklahoma's attorney general as well as Trump's nominee to become the top U.S. environmental regulator, of violating the state's Open Records Act by failing to release those emails to the public.

It also seeks to force him to respond to nine open-records requests dating to January 2015 to publish emails between his office and energy companies. Pruitt's office has received more than four dozen similar requests from other groups.

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February 9, 2017 7:29 PM

State senators on Tuesday gave their first approval to legislation that open government advocates say threatens to roll back access to public records in Florida.

The bill (SB 80) would let judges decide whether or not to force government agencies to pay attorney fees when they illegally block access to records. Current law requires that agencies pay for the lawyers of members of the public who successfully sue them over records.

Senators on the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee approved the bill on a 4-3 party line vote Tuesday morning with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

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February 8, 2017 5:41 PM

Open data can help you even if you know nothing about data, because it can power tools and resources that are usable by anyone.

This was on clear display recently at TransportationCamp, an unconference that focuses on the intersection of transportation and technology. Several developers from Mapzen ran a session presenting some of the open-source mapping tools they’ve been working on recently.

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February 8, 2017 5:36 PM

Two bills before a Kansas Senate committee would make government meetings and records more accessible to the public.

Both bills were presented to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee last week.

Senate Bill 70 clarifies a law that requires government bodies to justify going into private meetings. Under the measure, the reason for the private meeting would have to be recorded in public minutes.

Senate Bill 86 reduces how much government entities can charge for public records. It caps the price per page at 25 cents. Also, the cost of the time it takes a worker to acquire a public record must be charged at the lowest hourly rate.

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February 8, 2017 5:34 PM

Yesterday, when Mike Best broke the news that the FBI would be shutting down its FOIA email address and directing all online submissions through its online portal, a few people sensibly asked just how bad that portal could be. We’re here to tell you how bad.

Full disclosure: Some of MuckRock’s best friends have worked on building FOIA portals (hey, 18F!). We think that there’s room for well-designed government software to make life easier for requesters AND agencies. But the FBI’s eFOIA system appears to be designed explicitly not to be used.

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February 7, 2017 4:17 PM

The state agriculture department refused to release a list of dairy farmers.

Chicopee withheld the budget for its SWAT team.

Massachusetts State Police wouldn’t say how much they spent in salaries to operate each station.

All the denials had one thing in common: Agencies cited an exemption to the Massachusetts public records law that was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to keep building blueprints and other sensitive documents out of the hands of terrorists. The exemption allows agencies to withhold certain documents if, in the reasonable judgment of the records holder, the disclosure is “likely to jeopardize public safety or cyber security.”

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February 7, 2017 4:12 PM

Rep. Chatfield said this proposal is similar to the legislation introduced last session. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof shut down the bill because it didn't include an exception to correspondence received from a lawmaker's constituents.

That remains a major sticking point for this year's version of the legislation. The definition of a "constituent" is up for interpretation and could create a sizable loophole.

For example, if a legislator’s "constituent" is a huge donor and correspondence between the two included discussions of favors or a type of pay for play, that could be something that the public might be interested in.

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February 7, 2017 4:08 PM

In November, Always Investigating told you about a lawsuit by the Kokua Council against the Department of Health over its posting of health care facility inspections.

While digging into the long-term care reports – which track the trends of the most common violations – we found extensive blackouts on most of them.

A judge ruled Thursday, Feb. 2, that the redactions were overly extensive and violated the state’s open records law.

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