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 9, 2016 12:47 PM

From the Federal Election Commission’s suggestion that it might finally begin scrutinizing donations to super PACs from mystery limited liability corporations (LLCs) to the revelations in the Panama Papers, LLCs are very in right now.

The leak of the Panama Papers reportedly shows the use of offshore shell companies to hide cash by many high-profile foreign figures, from highly-paid soccer star Lionel Messi to the prime minister of Iceland, but the lack of Americans implicated in the investigations has raised eyebrows in the international community.

We’d all like to believe that it’s because most Americans are law-abiding folks, but there might be another answer: Americans don’t need offshore companies in tiny island nations to hide their money. America has Delaware. Continue...

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April 9, 2016 12:43 PM

Ohio in 2014 launched a searchable database of the state's expenditures, allowing residents to browse how their money was being spent by both the state and participating local governments.

Government watchdogs view it as a model for something that could be applied across the nation. "It's a transparency initiative rooted in the concept of making the government small and the individual big," said Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who launched OhioCheckBook.com through his office.

The site, which allows users to search how government is spending money on things like food and travel, has been a hit in the state: Mandel notes that since its launch 16 months ago, 611 local governments and school districts in the state have volunteered to participate. From Dec. 2, 2014, to March 24, 2016, citizens had used the site to search through government expenditures exactly 488,937 times. Continue... 

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April 9, 2016 12:32 PM

The Senate has given key approval to legislation that provides a process for releasing dash cam videos of police shootings and protects the last utterances of victims in 911 calls.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 40-0 to give the bill second reading.

Under the bill, law enforcement dash camera videos of officer shootings would be considered public and available under the state Freedom of Information Act but police and prosecutors could ask a circuit judge to withhold their release if there is "clear and convincing" evidence the video falls under one of several exemptions, such as depriving a defendant the right to a fair trial, interfering with a prospective law enforcement action or constituting an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy. Continue...

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April 9, 2016 12:29 PM

State lawmakers rejected a proposal Wednesday to treat the administrative records of people who work for Colorado’s judicial branch like the records of those who work for the executive and legislative branches and all local governments in Colorado. 

HB 16-1346 would have made civil or internal investigative files on judicial department employees subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

Under CORA, internal affairs files on the conduct of public employees are presumed to be open for public inspection, except for portions that contain highly personal or private information unrelated to work performance. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 9:26 PM

Two measures making their way through different political processes in California seek to increase transparency. One is a ballot initiative; the other is a bill. Each one’s supporters say it would cut down on backroom deals. But transparency can be a double-edged sword.

The California Coastal Commission dismissed its executive director last month, and coastal activists blame the behind-the-scene influence of developers. State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is authoring a bill in response. It would require that interest groups only approach commissioners in public hearings.

"The public is entitled to know what decisions are being made and why they’re being made, and to have input in those decisions," says Jackson. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 9:19 PM

In Michigan, transparency comes at a cost—and a seemingly arbitrary one at that.

The Society of Professional Journalists chapter at Central Michigan University recently conducted a FOIA audit of the state’s 15 public universities. It asked for a year’s worth of information on expenses from the university presidents and governing boards, and also police reports on campus sexual assaults. The goal: to compare how universities respond to requests for public information, and how much they charge.

No university denied the requests. But the price to fulfill all of them totaled more than $20,000. That ranged from Eastern Michigan University and two other schools that offered records for free, to the University of Michigan, where it would cost $2,774 just for presidential spending records. UM attributed that cost to its estimate that it would take 46.5 staff hours to search for records, and many more to review and duplicate documents. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 9:14 PM

While news organizations, good government groups and – hopefully – public-minded citizens were commemorating right-to-know and open-meetings laws during Sunshine Week last month, clouds of obstruction were forming over the Pennsylvania State Capitol in the form of House Bill 1310.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia, would prohibit release of so-called "identifying information" in 911 calls. That would include the name, telephone number, address and location associated with any call.

Much of this information is already protected under the state's current Right to Know law, inaccessible unless a court decides there is a compelling reason for public disclosure. But current law allows public access to "time response logs," which document time and location – or, at least, nearby cross streets – of emergency calls, as well as response times. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 9:09 PM

Open government advocates are speaking out against an amendment to a bill that would keep investigations into officer-involved shootings closed to the public unless the district attorney for the area the shooting happened in, and the chief officer for the law enforcement agency involved, agree to release the findings.

That could keep investigative findings about an officer involved shooting from the public indefinitely. The amendment is part of a bill that originally required the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate all officer-involved shootings.

Currently, police and sheriff’s departments with the resources can investigate officer-involved shootings themselves. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 8:59 PM

The penalties will be pricier for public officials who knowingly attend meetings in violation of Washington state’s open-meetings law.

The state’s Open Public Meetings Act requires all meetings of governing bodies of public agencies to be open to the public.

The law covers agencies, commissions, departments, education institutions, local governments, special purpose districts and state boards. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 12:07 AM

A case that began in the wood-paneled meeting room in the village of Oakley will be heard in the chambers of Michigan's highest court, where justices will consider defining the term "public official" in how it applies to the state's Open Meetings Act.

The proceedings began three years ago in April 2013, when Hemlock attorney Philip L. Ellison sued Oakley village Clerk Cheryl Bolf on behalf of Oakley resident Shannon Bitterman, alleging violations from a closed meeting in November 2012.

The trustees held a closed meeting that violated the Open Meetings Act, the lawsuit alleges, and Bolf improperly made changes to meeting minutes, intentionally violating the act. Attorneys representing Bolf argue she is not considered a public official for the purposes of the Open Meetings Act. Continue...

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April 6, 2016 12:03 AM

Combing through federal data has typically been a daunting affair. Even with tools and know-how, it requires patience and a penchant for understanding minutiae. Yet a partnership between the MIT Media Lab and tech companies Deloitte and Datawheel are vying to change this.

On Monday, April 4, the trio released Data USA, an open source platform promoted as “the most comprehensive website and visualization engine” ever created for U.S. government data.

The lofty claim is delivered about a site that aggregates federal open data from multiple sources and displays it in interactive visuals — colorful charts, maps, profiles and even a few pieces of data-based journalism. Continue...

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Data USA, MIT, open data
April 5, 2016 11:53 PM

Here's an idea: State government's top criminal investigator should follow—and not try to circumvent—the open records law.

But former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall, who is on paid leave as director of the state Justice Department's Criminal Division while investigators determine how he responded to alleged assaults at the state's prison for juveniles, tried to end-run the records law.

Wall mailed official state documents to the home of Rich Zipperer, Gov. Scott Walker's chief of staff and a former state senator. They included this personal wink/wink at open-records disclosure requirements. Continue...

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