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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October 20, 2016 10:21 AM

A lawsuit argued in Montpelier on Tuesday will decide whether a key part of Vermont’s health care reform efforts is subject to the state’s public records law.

Vermont Information Technology Leaders is technically a private nonprofit organization. It’s better known by its acronym, VITL, and it’s the organization that’s responsible for developing the Vermont Health Information Exchange. That’s a system that is designed to allow different doctors with different electronic medical records software to easily share information about patients. And VITL built that system with guidance from the Legislature and millions of dollars from taxpayers.

That’s why citizen advocate Steven Whitaker says VITL should be subject to the state’s public records law. He argued in Washington County Superior Court that even though it’s a private nonprofit, it meets the legal standard of being a “functional equivalent” of a government agency.

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October 20, 2016 10:19 AM

Want to know which state agency buys the most pizza? Maybe you're more curious about whether your favorite restaurant passed its last inspection, the traffic counts on your road or the most popular subjects at your local library.

That's just a sample of the information that state officials say will be searchable, sortable and, in some cases, mappable come Wednesday evening when Gov. Jack Markell unveils Delaware's new open data portal – an online clearinghouse of raw statistics and other nonpersonal information collected by state agencies.

The 30 datasets also included in the launch will cover topics such as state contracts, toxic releases, cancer mortality rates, licensed child care providers and even the most popular baby names in Delaware.

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October 20, 2016 10:14 AM

Over the next few weeks, many of you will be seeing your present (and/or prospective) state legislators and senators cross your towns. They are in the midst of campaigns. They are telling you and your voters why they should be elected to fill seats in Jefferson City beginning in January.

They will tell you what is wrong with the way government is run. It’s no surprise they believe there is a lot “wrong” with the way our state government is being run. State Auditor Nicole Galloway also believes there is wrong in our state legislature, and she recently released two reports including, among other issues, what she sees as violations of the state Sunshine Law.

The 19-page report on the audit of the House of Representatives and the 17-page report on the audit of the Senate detail areas with Sunshine Law deficiencies. First, the reports focus on records held by the House of Representatives and by the Senate. Both legislative bodies are entities “created by statute,” and therefore the records retained by both bodies are inherently “records” subject to the Sunshine Law. All such records are “open” unless the House or Senate defines what records are specifically closed. All public bodies are required to do that. They need a policy defining that a certain record is closed; otherwise, it is an open record. The House of Representatives has no such policy, the state auditor found, and neither does the Missouri Senate.

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October 19, 2016 9:02 AM

The General Services Administration is working to create a place where data providers can go to see if their data fits into a set of standards others might be already using.

This new effort, the recently announced U.S. Data Federation, is a step forward in the open data movement toward not just publishing data on Data.gov but also coordinating it among specific topics to be interoperable and standardized, experts say.

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October 19, 2016 9:00 AM

After a protracted mediation process and with the clock winding down to a Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission hearing, Newtown Board of Ethics Chair Jacqueline Villa admitted to violating the state FOI Act on two separate occasions, both involving illegal executive sessions — meetings with members of her board closed to press and citizens that should have been conducted in public.

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October 19, 2016 8:56 AM

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas will host an Open Government Seminar in Denton in November featuring training in public meetings and public records laws.

The non-profit FOI Foundation, in cooperation with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office and the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT, will offer the one-day seminar on Wednesday, Nov. 16. It is designed for government employees, journalists, attorneys and members of the general public interested in the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act.

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October 18, 2016 2:24 PM

In a decision First Amendment experts have dubbed “outrageous,” a Contra Costa Superior Court judge jailed a San Ramon man for writing about his divorce on the internet — even though his writings were based on material publicly available in court files.

The judge, Bruce C. Mills, insisted in his decision that “matters that are put into court pleadings and brought up in oral argument before the court do not become public thereby” — a position that lawyers say fundamentally misunderstands the nature of court records.

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October 18, 2016 2:03 PM

The Anchorage Police Department is joining 100 other police departments around the country to provide more data and information to their respective communities.

APD announced Friday it’s participating in the White House Police Data Initiative.

Lieutenant Jack Carson says the aim is to increase transparency within the Anchorage Police Department.

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October 18, 2016 2:01 PM

2,473 days after President Barack Obama issued an Open Government Directive, half of the 15 Cabinet agencies of the United States have not complied with the most basic aspect of the executive order: publishing an open government plan on their open website.

Eight agencies have not published a new plan, as required every two years: The Departments of Treasury, Interior, Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. Six have: the Departments of State, Justice, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Education. One, the Department of Defense, has claimed to publish a new plan but has a link to the 2014 version.

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October 17, 2016 12:37 PM

In a complaint filed last week, Stern says the mayor, Philip Levine, “employs … digital mediums including social media to communicate official business,” noting that the Twitter and Facebook accounts at issue identify him as mayor and are used for constituent engagement and informing city residents of important events (e.g., the Zika outbreak in Miami Beach). These accounts are separate from Levine’s personal and campaign ones.

That’s all significant because Levine posted a photo on his mayoral Twitter feed July 23 in which he’s greeting Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, and Stern responded in a tweet that linked an article he wrote criticizing Levine, with a comment blaming the mayor for causing a Miami Beach water pollution problem. After that, according to the complaint, Levine blocked Stern on Twitter.

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October 17, 2016 12:34 PM

Maryland's citizens have the right to know how government transacts business on their behalf. To help set this culture of openness, Maryland legislators created the Public Information Act in 1970, followed by the Open Meetings Act in 1977. There are two volunteer boards that provide an outlet for citizen complaints relating to these acts and serve as an alternate or intermediate step before a dispute is taken to court. The Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) was refreshed with new board members in 2015 and issues non-binding advisory opinions. Members of the newly-created Public Information Act Compliance Board (PIACB) were appointed in Spring 2016. That board reviews complaints regarding fees over $350 for information under the Public Information Act.

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October 17, 2016 12:32 PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Several new state laws went into effect on Friday. The laws are the result of the Legislature overriding several vetoes of Gov. Jay Nixon at its session in September.

Concealing information of farmers (HB 1414): This protects information of farmers who voluntarily share information with state agencies. Specifically, it exempts data collected by any state agency under the Animal Disease Traceability Program, or any data collected for the purpose of animal health or environmental protection, from being disclosed under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The governor vetoed it because he said it reduces government transparency.

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