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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May 2, 2017 1:08 AM

Florida lawmakers are considering letting local officials meet one on one, outside of the public eye. But a first amendment advocate says the change could encourage corruption.

Florida’s sunshine laws require government meetings to be noticed and open to the public. But some lawmakers want to let local officials meet one on one. They wouldn’t be able to take votes or discuss publicly funded projects. But that doesn’t satisfy Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation.

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May 2, 2017 1:06 AM

A coalition of organizations dedicated to government openness and accountability, human rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights is calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with the legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and fully disclose information on immigration enforcement cooperation between federal and non-federal law enforcement agencies. We urge ICE to comply with the FOIA in a timely manner, and to permit the release of data on immigration enforcement cooperation in full compliance with local and state transparency laws.

The coalition is concerned that ICE has significantly reduced the amount of information it is releasing, while at the same time publishing incomplete and selective information in its weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Reports.” These reports have been criticized for being used in a discriminatory manner to target undocumented communities and punish cities that the administration claims do not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. Following the announcement that ICE is suspending the publication of these weekly reports, we are calling on ICE to disclose the full record on immigration cooperation in response to public FOIA requests.

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April 29, 2017 11:35 AM

They’re outside the traditional forms of local or state government, but so-called special districts spend more than $200 billion annually.

Nationwide, there are 38,000 of these government entities that provide a specific service for a designated area that would otherwise typically be provided by a local or state government.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Frontier Group inspected 79 special districts in a report they released Tuesday. The report found many lack fiscal transparency and easy access to audited financial statements or checkbook-level spending data.

Here in Connecticut, there are over 447 special districts. In 2013, the last year for which data was available, those special districts managed over well over $1.4 billion. These numbers, according to the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, are conservative because only a fraction of special districts in each state actually report to the U.S. Census.

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April 29, 2017 11:31 AM

The Connecticut General Assembly is trying to exert more control over CT-N TV coverage of state government proceedings under a new request for proposals for a new five-year contract, raising protests freedom-of-information advocates.

The issue was Topic A at a midday meeting Wednesday of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information—a group that has been "working for open, accountable government and a free press since 1955," according to its website.

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April 29, 2017 11:27 AM

Western Kentucky University is asking for a stay in a case involving an Open Records dispute between the university and the Kentucky Attorney General's office.

In court documents, WKU has asked for the stay until a similar case involving the University of Kentucky is resolved.

WKU is suing the college's student newspaper after denying an open records request for paperwork about 20 sexual misconduct investigations among university employees in the past four years. The Kentucky Attorney General has intervened in the case.

The motion says by ordering a stay in the case, it will save time and reduce litigation expenses.

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April 28, 2017 3:22 AM

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with a journalist, a college professor and an activist to sue the Los Angeles Police Department over what they describe as a “systemic violation” of California’s public records law.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, accused the LAPD of failing to comply with the California Public Records Act by not responding to requests within the time frame mandated by the law or by ignoring inquiries altogether.

The civil complaint documents nearly a dozen examples of such requests, including some that were allegedly made years ago and have yet to be answered.

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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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