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 28, 2017 3:18 AM

Earlier this month, Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Nick Coltrain won the First Amendment Award at the Society for Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies for a battle with Colorado State University. He wanted to know if there were inequities in pay between men and women -- and discovered there were, but only after a lot of work. The school provided him with a printout of all the information -- 150 pages of an Excel spreadsheet -- rather than the files themselves.

Coltrain’s struggle to convert the printouts into something he could analyze prompted a battle about the public's right to access data. On April 25, a Senate Bill to require electronic records be made available where possible advanced by a 7 to 6 vote in the House Finance Committee.

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April 28, 2017 3:17 AM

Following a complaint by a national legal news service, the state of Vermont issued an emergency order effective Monday directing court clerks to make public all lawsuits as soon as they are filed.

Previously, state court rules required clerks to keep lawsuits secret until defendants had been served — a violation of the public's First Amendment right to access to court records, according to a federal case brought against Vermont by Courthouse News Service.

The state initially said it would defend the confidentiality practice, but a further examination by Vermont lawyers, the Court Administrator's Office and the Supreme Court determined a change was appropriate, Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond said.

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April 26, 2017 4:16 PM

The Jefferson County Commissioners have approved a $150,000 settlement after a roughly four-year legal battle over the county’s internet access logs.

According to a statement from County Administrator Philip Morley, the settlement was negotiated between Jefferson County officials and Michael Belenski, who sued the county in 2012 after he was denied two public records requests.

Belenski made two requests, one in 2010 and another in 2011, asking for more than 300 million log entries from the county’s internet access logs. Belenski was seeking logs that show the websites visited by county employees and how much time was spent on each site.

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April 26, 2017 4:16 PM

A bill to modernize Colorado’s public records law survived a state House panel Monday night in a form closer to the way it was introduced earlier in the legislative session.

After a hearing that lasted more than five hours, the House Finance Committee removed a Senate amendment to Senate Bill 17-040 that was intended to make Colorado’s judicial branch subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

The committee also undid another Senate amendment that would have allowed records custodians to withhold metadata, a term that is not defined in the bill but generally refers to information about other data. Instead, a new provision requires records requesters to specifically ask for metadata, which wouldn’t be released unless it is disclosable under CORA.

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April 26, 2017 4:15 PM

The New England First Amendment Coalition today opposed Maine legislation that would cause unnecessary delays to the release of public records.

The legislation, L.D. 1432, allows an agency or official to “require payment of all costs before the public record is provided to the requester” under the state’s Freedom of Access Act.

If L.D. 1432 were to become law, NEFAC explained, inexpensive and routine documents could be withheld for the sake of the relatively low fees collected in return, creating “a system ripe for obfuscation and needless delay.”

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April 26, 2017 2:09 AM

Some of the state’s leading news media attorneys are concerned that a proposed expansion of rules on public access to court records in Tennessee is overly broad and could erode access at the trial court level.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has proposed changing Rule 34 “Policies and Guidelines Regarding Appellate Judicial Records,” which defines certain court records not open for inspection, such as unpublished drafts of judicial orders and opinions, for appellate courts.

The changes would broaden the rule to apply to records maintained by the “clerks of the inferior courts” and add a new exemption for any records that “potentially undermine the inherent constitutional powers granted to the court…”

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April 26, 2017 2:03 AM

From the Governor's letter, via ICOG's website:

While I understand the intent behind the bill to offset the considerable time and expense often devoted to fulfilling public records requests, I view this proposed legislation as contrary to my commitment to providing great government service at a great value for Hoosier taxpayers.

Providing access to public records is a key part of the work public servants perform and is important from a government transparency standpoint. I do not support policies that create burdensome obstacles to the public gaining access to public documents.

I vetoed HEA 1523 for these reasons; however, I support the provision requiring public agencies to provide electronic copies of public records in electronic format (such as emails) if requested.

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April 26, 2017 1:54 AM

Digital services group 18F is is going to help develop the government’s centralized portal for Freedom of Information Act requests, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, who will collaborate with them on the project.

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 signed into law last year mandated the creation of a centralized portal — one place for people to go to submit a request for records from any agency. The act also requires the portal be interoperable with request processing software agencies are using.

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April 25, 2017 1:53 AM

In Bethlehem, city leaders are considering posting already public information online, hoping data lovers might spin it into something useful.

It's all part of the open data movement, where governments upload records on such things as air quality, crime, finances and traffic for people to digest, analyze and transform. Tech savvy millennials, so-called "civic hackers" and citizen watchdogs are the target audiences, with a hope that they will apply the data in ways that lead to better policies and more efficient governments.

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April 25, 2017 1:51 AM

The Daily Press took its battle with the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court over access to a statewide court records database to the justices of the state Supreme Court on Friday.

The newspaper is seeking the data under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to determine whether race plays a part in plea bargains in the state’s circuit courts. The position of the OES is that each of the state’s clerks — not the OES — is the custodian of the records.

The OES, which is the court administrator for the state, has turned over to the Daily Press the data from 50 clerks who agreed to release it, but withheld data from the 68 clerks who did not agree, even though the information is public (two of the 120 circuit courts, Fairfax County and Alexandria, do not use the case management system).

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April 25, 2017 1:48 AM

There are a lot of factors when it comes to determining your FOIA request cost, but one of the key ones is which requester category you fall under. Under FOIA fee regulations, there are three broad categories of requesters, and making sure you are classified correctly can mean getting the documents for free or a reasonable fee and being asked to pay thousands - or even hundreds of thousands - of dollars.

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April 23, 2017 10:13 PM

Even in the dark days following their son’s death, the Dyers tended to believe the police. Why wouldn’t they? Kathy, a civil engineer, and Robert, a teacher, were solid citizens.

And yet, they wondered: What were those marks on his arms — “chicken feet” scratches, Robert called them. Or what to make of the emergency room doctor’s notes saying it appeared Graham had been the victim of an assault? Seeking answers, the couple asked the Mesquite Police Department for their records of what happened that night.

But the department refused to release them — because, its lawyers explained, Texas law said it didn’t have to.

State law says a police agency isn’t required to turn over records for incidents that don’t result in a conviction. Graham, who’d been charged with assaulting a police officer after the confrontation, had died before his case could be litigated. So, the department reasoned, his records were confidential. Asked to weigh in on the dispute, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott agreed the Mesquite police could refuse the Dyers’s request.

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