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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March 8, 2017 12:20 AM

For advocates of government transparency, the General Assembly's 2017 session was a mixed bag, resulting in bills that both increased and decreased information available under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, the session saw fewer FOIA-related bills than in past years. Even so, the group stayed busy opposing legislation that Rhyne said would keep important information from the public.

She said one such bill was HB 1678, which would have allowed information on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to be withheld from mandatory disclosure under FOIA. The bill cleared the House of Delegates but was ultimately defeated in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee.

Rhyne said the "most concerning" bill this legislative session was HB 2043, which would have made the release of the names of police officers involved in police shooting investigations a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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March 7, 2017 1:10 AM

Boston has launched a beta version of a new citywide open data platform.

This project, dubbed Analyze Boston, is a work in progress, and city officials said in a statement that they hope the now-online preview will “spark conversation and get feedback” leading up to its official release this spring. The project's goal is to upgrade and enhance Boston’s current open data portal, on which Mayor Marty Walsh has long encouraged agencies to publish their data sets.

On the new site, visitors can now search through all of Boston’s open data sets, interacting with that data through preview, filter and visualization tools. Developers can also integrate those same data sets with robust API, or create charts and graphs that can then be embedded on external websites.

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March 7, 2017 12:52 AM

[A] lawsuit in South Carolina could change who can access public information, and it's already affecting a high-profile case centered around the Godfather of Soul. The biggest thing in question here is can you, a private citizen, be stripped of your FOIA rights if you're being sued by a public body?

That would change the game. It would mean a lot of time and money that people probably don't have.

Right now that question is playing out in a lawsuit over one of James Brown's former trustees, Adele Pope. She requested some public documents, but once the Attorney General sued her, the court ruled she could only get those documents through discovery, a lengthy process of a lawsuit.

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March 3, 2017 11:45 PM

A Republican lawmaker has proposed a bill that would let Texas ignore public information requests from people who are not permanent residents of the state.

The Texas Public Information Act entitles any person, regardless of citizenship or residency, to obtain information about government agencies, public officials and government employees.

“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know,” the act states. “The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

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March 3, 2017 11:41 PM

Advocates say Senate Bill 40 does something simple: It brings the Colorado Open Records Act into the 21st century by requiring state agencies to provide information in a digital format -- such as a database or a spreadsheet -- where feasible.

“These are the people’s records. We are the custodians, we are the stewards of these records,” said Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins. He’s the main sponsor of the bill.

For some, the issue is more complicated.

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March 3, 2017 11:40 PM

On March 2, the California Supreme Court held that emails sent to or from the personal accounts of public officials can be subject to disclosure if they are used to conduct public business. The decision stems from a 2009 public records request made to the city of San Jose.

The full text of the ruling can be found here.

March 3, 2017 12:54 AM

In Connecticut a bill before the legislature seeks to limit frivolous complaints to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

Republican State Representative Adam Dunsby of Easton proposed the bill. It would impose a $125 fee for two or more complaints submitted to the commission within a calendar year.

During a public hearing this week, Dunsby said these numerous complaints are not about transparency.

“The individual who is filing tens or hundreds of complaints is not interested in records. Their objective is to harass public officials.”

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March 3, 2017 12:43 AM

In behind-the-scenes negotiations on a bill designed to make government more transparent in the digital age, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office offered a series of amendments that could dramatically expand the types of records that can be hidden from public view.

The draft proposal, obtained by The Denver Post, would add a new exemption to Colorado’s Open Records Act to allow the government to withhold “any personal identifying information” for people who are not public employees — including something as simple as a name, phone number or address.

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March 3, 2017 12:27 AM

A Missouri judge ruled the state Corrections Department intentionally delayed fulfilling a Sunshine request over the source of execution drugs to avoid returning them and facing negative publicity.

"The Missouri Department of Corrections violated the public's trust, in both its plan to use questionably obtained drugs and by purposefully violating the Sunshine Law to cover up its scheme," American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said in a Monday statement touting the ruling.

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March 2, 2017 1:36 AM

Some of the animal welfare documents that were abruptly purged from a Department of Agriculture database early this month were restored last week, days after animal rights groups filed a lawsuit to make the records public again.

The documents that were restored to the database include inspection reports for research institutions and certain federal labs that work with animals. Similar reports on the treatment of animals at zoos, breeding operations and animal transporters — which represent the vast majority of facilities that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service oversees — are still unavailable.

The database is maintained by APHIS, in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

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March 2, 2017 1:29 AM

A Mid-Missouri judge this week ruled that a man who recently won a transparency lawsuit against a law enforcement narcotics group can amend his suit to include allegations that Audrain County’s former sheriff had improperly altered documents.

Aaron Malin’s case against the East Central Missouri Task Force, which includes investigators from several eastern and Central Missouri law enforcement agencies, did not initially include allegations that Stuart Miller had changed documents he had previously released to Malin. Miller, who retired at the beginning of the year as Audrain County sheriff, testified at trial last year that he had erased some information from those documents, something that Malin and his attorney, Dave Roland, had not known.

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March 1, 2017 12:59 AM

Arkansas lawmakers are considering new secrecy provisions for the State Capitol Police, some attorney-client relationships and Arkansas Community Correction.

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the proposals Thursday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The bills are among at least 10 removing coverage of records under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Transparency concerns have been raised by the Arkansas Press Association, which represents the Democrat-Gazette and newspapers across the state.

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