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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April 14, 2017 10:15 PM

A judge has ruled that Arkansas State Police public information officer, Bill Sadler, violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor found Sadler had committed five civil violations of the FOIA law when he relied on a "blanket police" and failed to give valid reasons for not releasing dashcam videos.

Judge Tabor ordered those videos be released Monday in five cases being overseen by attorney W. Whitfield Hyman.

Hyman sued Sadler for rejecting his FOIA requests on the ground that they were exempt as part of an ongoing investigation.

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April 14, 2017 10:09 PM

President Donald Trump’s administration announced Friday that the White House won’t release records of its visitors, raising new concerns from transparency advocates.

The decision not to voluntarily disclose White House visitor logs is a break from the policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration, even though Trump had called his predecessor the “least transparent president.”

White House communications director Michael Dubke framed the decision not to disclose who visits the president as resulting from the “national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”

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April 13, 2017 10:52 PM

Residents of New Mexico may be none the wiser when it comes to information about independent political expenditures and everyday spending by lobbyists after key transparency measures were vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. At the same time, a long list of anti-transparency initiatives designed to restrict access to government information floundered during this year’s 60-day legislative session.

“Nothing passed that would undermine the public’s access to public records and public meetings,” said Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and a former investigative reporter.

The defeat of a proposal to make more information available about so-called dark money political donations drew broad criticism, with backers including prominent Democrats and local and national policy groups expressing disappointment.

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April 13, 2017 10:50 PM

Proponents of a bill intended to make Colorado public records easier to analyze fear the University of Colorado is manipulating the bill to make records more difficult to obtain.

Senate Bill 40 concerns public access to government files, or the Colorado Open Records Act. The bill's original intent is to ensure digital records requested are provided in a searchable format.

For example, if a member of the public wants to see a public database, they could receive that file in a format such as an Excel spreadsheet that would allow them to analyze the data rather than a PDF document, which just shows a static printout of the data.

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April 13, 2017 10:45 PM

Education is a $1.1 trillion industry in America, one requiring vigilant public oversight – oversight that increasingly is frustrated when answers to simple questions are concealed behind an impenetrable wall of “student privacy.”

Ask a public university or a school district anything about any issue of public importance – sexual harassment by employees, crime on campus, athlete recruiting scandals – and you can expect to hear: “We can’t tell you anything because of FERPA.” Even when they know it’s not true.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a well-intentioned federal law requiring schools and colleges to maintain the confidentiality of “education records,” has been distorted by educational institutions into a catch-all excuse to conceal wrongdoing and mismanagement.

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April 12, 2017 7:19 PM

Boston wants to highlight the increased potential of its overhauled open data portal, Analyze Boston, and is doing so by hosting an open data competition for technologists.

Analyze Boston is a new and enhanced portal that aims to make the abundance of open data sets the city releases more relevant and accessible to everyday residents. The Analyze Boston Data Challenge asks participants to pick one of five tracks for the competition, each of which was selected because it could make life better for people in the city. The tracks are: reducing Boston’s carbon footprint; making open data local; learning more from BuildBPS data; identifying fire risks; and telling a story through data.

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April 12, 2017 7:18 PM

A circuit court judge has ruled that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department broke the law in refusing to make officer conduct complaints available to the public — and must "permanently" stop concealing those records going forward.

Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker issued a ruling against the department last week, saying that the police are bound to release "all portions of internal affairs records that are not created solely for the purpose of hiring, firing or promoting an officer," in the summary of the ACLU of the Missouri. He also awarded $5,500 in penalties and fees to the ACLU and its client, plus legal fees.

The civil rights watchdog filed a suit last year on behalf of Curtis Farber, who filed an officer misconduct complaint in March 2013. Farber had been arrested two years prior, and alleged in a subsequent complaint to the department that the officers who arrested him had also assaulted him and threatened to file false drug charges against him.

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April 12, 2017 7:14 PM

A circuit court ruling that that said a workers' compensation group violated Florida's open records laws by not ensuring committee hearings and supporting documentation on a proposed rate increase were made available to the public is under appeal.

“The primary question in this appeal is whether (National Council on Compensation Insurance) has a committee with a responsibility for workers' compensation rates and whether NCCI had such a committee with regards to the 2016 rates filings at issue," attorney James McKee recently said in his opening statement representing NCCI during an oral argument in the 1st District Court of Appeal. "The records unequivocally demonstrates the answer is no.”

“There is no other basis to apply the provisions of the Sunshine Law to NCCI, a private corporation," McKee said.

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April 11, 2017 11:11 AM

A bill encouraging citizens and state agencies to resolve public records disputes outside court is headed to the governor's desk.

The Senate passed the bill Monday 35-0. It offers mediation as an option when a citizen wants to challenge a government agency's denial of his or her request for public records.

Under Colorado's Open Records Act, such challenges must go to court — an expense that deters many from pursuing their requests.

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April 11, 2017 11:09 AM

An Oklahoma open records expert said he believes OU’s denial of three Daily open records requests goes beyond the scope of the court ruling on which OU has based its denial.

OU has denied The Daily three requests for the names of university employees who are eligible for its Special Voluntary Retirement Incentive. The program encourages eligible employees to retire early and receive a payment equal to a portion of their salaries, and it has now been implemented a second time as a cost-saving measure.

OU denied the records, which it gave to The Daily just one year ago, on the grounds that the ages of employees are protected under the Oklahoma Open Records Act as a personnel record. The records The Daily seeks would show which employees are aged 60 and older — the requirement to be eligible for the early retirement program — but not give the employees’ exact ages.

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April 11, 2017 11:06 AM

Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law legislation that will exempt in-progress bids for public contracts from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests last week.

The legislation had been introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) in an effort to combat what he said has been abuse of the FOIA system to undercut Michigan businesses.

“Before this change, vendors could unfairly use FOIA to find out how much money the state can spend on a particular project and also look at bids from their competitors before a final decision has been made,” Jones said. “As a result, state taxpayers could have been missing out on savings as companies could prepare their bids based on information gained through FOIA instead of simply offering the lowest possible price.”

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April 10, 2017 9:21 PM

A House committee this week approved two bills intended to shine light on political dark money in Colorado.

House Bill 17-1261 would require that anyone spending $1,000 or more in a year on electioneering communications include “paid for” disclosures in those ads. House Bill 17-1262 would close a reporting gap so that spending information on electioneering communications is available throughout a campaign season.

“Both of these bills really work on bringing greater transparency to the election process,” said Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, who introduced the measures with Rep. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village. Both bills passed on party-line votes Wednesday in the Democratic-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

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