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 29, 2016 5:00 PM

They call it “dark money” because it avoids the light of day. If the term sounds sinister to you, that’s because it is. And it has become the lifeblood of politics.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley knows a thing or two about it. So does Rebekah Caldwell Mason. While Bentley made a big deal about not accepting dark money in his campaign for governor, he turned around and paid Mason, his top “political adviser,” with dark money.

But the problem didn’t start with Bentley and Mason. It certainly isn’t limited to just this type of influence and it most definitely isn’t a new problem. And, as you may have guessed by now, the problem is bigger here than in most other states and it is growing. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:56 PM

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the University of Michigan's practice of holding some of its board meetings behind closed doors.

The ruling upheld a lower court's ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Detroit Free Press.

"The Constitution permits defendant to hold informal meetings in private; defendant is only required to hold its formal meetings in public," the ruling said. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:38 PM

Sending a so-called "still interested letter" to someone who requested responses under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act has an uncertain effect, an analysis found.

It's tough to measure these letters' effect on requesters, found part one of a study by the Compliance Team at the Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS, on the use of such letters by the 15 Cabinet-level agencies between fiscal years 1998 and 2014, according to an April 27 blog post by the National Archives' FOIA ombudsman.

That's due, in part, to the fact that no guidance or standard for reporting requests closed using the letters exist. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:35 PM

Should intercollegiate athletes have diminished expectations of privacy? Best-selling author Jon Krakauer and his attorney, Mike Meloy of Helena, say yes.

At the heart of Krakauer’s wide-ranging argument for the release of documents related to the decision to vacate former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson's expulsion after university proceedings found him guilty of sexual assault in 2013 is the contention that student-athletes aren’t subject to privacy laws due to their status as public figures.

Krakauer and Meloy argued that case Wednesday to the Montana Supreme Court during a records request hearing at the Strand Union Building at Montana State University. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:31 PM

The House voted unanimously Thursday to close a loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act that allowed public officials to avoid scrutiny by using private email to conduct official business.

SB 22 will close the loophole and make public officials’ private emails open records if they pertain to official business. Private emails on personal matters would remain private.

The issue gained attention last year when The Eagle reported that Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director had used a private email address to send a draft of the governor’s budget proposal to two lobbyists with ties to Brownback several weeks before it was presented to lawmakers. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 8:02 PM

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) and freelance journalist Peter St. Cyr have dismissed their lawsuit against the New Mexico Department of Health after the DOH amended its regulations that kept secret the names of licensed medical marijuana producers.

The lawsuit was filed last July in the state district court in Albuquerque, but NMFOG and St. Cyr stayed further action within weeks of the filing after DOH agreed to begin administrative procedures to remove the confidentiality provisions.

The suit also sought an order under the Inspection of Public Records Act directing the DOH to release the names of all such producers as well as applicants for producer licenses. Continue...

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Marijuana, New Mexico, NMFOG
April 28, 2016 7:58 PM

The first meeting this week of a special state commission on education funding has made clear that the panel has a lot to learn about government transparency and accountability.

The group flouted Maine’s open-meetings law by getting together behind closed doors. Each member of the commission could now face a hefty fine – and they should, if the public’s right to know is to stand for anything.

Those who came to Augusta for Monday morning’s education task force gathering could be forgiven if they thought they’d been transported to a New York nightclub with a rigorous screening policy. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 7:55 PM

Missouri's open records laws would not cover some farming data under a measure that has passed the Missouri Senate.

The legislation, which passed with a bipartisan majority of 25-6, would require state agencies to keep confidential the information farmers submit for voluntary agricultural programs, such as registration data for animal disease tracking programs. Anyone who improperly releases that information could be sued.

Supporters said strengthening privacy protections would encourage more farmers to participate in such programs, while critics of the bill said eroding the state's sunshine laws would set a bad precedent for government transparency. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 7:53 PM

As part of the Obama administration’s push for improved policing in the wake of highly-publicized police shootings, the White House last year launched the Police Data Initiative and asked local law enforcement agencies to voluntarily provide, and publicly post, their statistics on use-of-force incidents and other interactions with citizens.

The idea was that greater transparency would lead to greater citizen confidence in the police, with more public support and fewer critical incidents.

But a year after the project was launched, only 53 jurisdictions have committed to it, covering more than 41 million people. New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Montgomery County are on the list, but many others are not. As in about 17,000 others, with police jurisdictions covering more than 260 million people. Continue...

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April 28, 2016 7:48 PM

Public records fights take too much time and cost too much money, a slew of Republican leaders said Wednesday.

Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, wants to create a first-of-its-kind way to appeal rejected requests for public records by going through the Ohio Court of Claims.

The advantages? That court is already set up to handle disputes with government, the appeal would take about 45 days and it's cheaper – just $25 to appeal compared to the current $100 fee. Continue...

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April 27, 2016 6:41 PM

When a coroner announced earlier this year that a USC Upstate student was drunk when he crashed and killed himself and three fellow student athletes, it felt like a little bit of sanity had been restored to our state’s public records law.

After all, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger received an opinion from the attorney general blessing his release of the information. 

But a closer look at that opinion reveals the law is just as crazy as it has been since the state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that an autopsy is a “medical record” and therefore cannot be released to the public. Continue...

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April 27, 2016 6:34 PM

A ruling by Indiana’s highest court allows lawmakers to keep the people’s business shrouded in secrecy.

The state Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month means legislators can continue to withhold their communications with lobbying groups and businesses.

The decision comes in a taxpayer-funded lawsuit filed by Citizens Action Coalition, Common Cause of Indiana and Energy and Policy Institute. The nonprofit groups are seeking emails between Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and utility companies regarding his solar power bill. The House had denied an open records request for the correspondence, saying the General Assembly is exempt from the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. Continue...

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