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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February 1, 2016 6:47 PM

The sponsors of House Bill 1022 insist they want private universities in Indiana to be more open with police records. The bill, they say, will create a new and stronger level of transparency. And the universities themselves, who helped craft the bill, have said they want to be more open when it comes to public safety.

The bill comes in the wake of controversies about sexual assault investigations on university campuses, as well as a lawsuit by media giant ESPN on whether police records by the University of Notre Dame should be public.

So would the bill really meet the bar its proponents tout? How much more open will the records of police forces at Indiana’s private universities really be?

In the case of one key player, Notre Dame, the answer apparently is not much more at all. Continue...

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January 29, 2016 11:17 PM

Booking photos — aka "mug shots" — of criminal defendants are now public records in Montana that must be released to the news media.

In October, state District Court Judge Jon Oldenburg of Lewistown ordered a mug shot, or booking photo, released in Park County, saying it is public justice information.

Citing this ruling, Attorney General Tim Fox in December declined to issue an attorney general’s opinion sought by Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert on the issue. Continue... 

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January 29, 2016 11:13 PM

State lawmakers introduced three bills in the opening weeks of the 2016 legislative session intended to safeguard Colorado whistleblowers.

The measures would: 1) prohibit municipalities, counties and school districts from disciplining employees who report abuses; 2) shield state employees from disciplinary action for reporting “non-public” information; and 3) protect homeowners from retaliation or discrimination by homeowners’ associations.

Many cities and counties in Colorado have ordinances preventing retaliation against employees for disclosing violations of laws or mismanagement or waste of public funds. School districts and boards are less likely to have done so. Continue...

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January 29, 2016 11:10 PM

A new group of organizations called Open Kansas called on lawmakers this week to make a commitment to government openness by signing a “transparency pledge.”

The initiative by five nonprofit organizations was announced at the Capitol. Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, and Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, were the first to sign.

“We owe no less to the people we represent to be as open and accountable as possible to the constituents in our districts and to the people of Kansas at large,” Rubin said. Continue...

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January 29, 2016 11:06 PM

In most states, if journalists or citizens want to hold our elected officials accountable, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important tool in our political toolbox.

However, Michigan is among a small handful of states where the governor’s office and the state legislature are exempt from the FOIA. This means that documents and records can be kept from the public, except in rare occasions.

Governor Rick Snyder recently volunteered to release a batch of emails concerning the Flint water crisis, which highlighted the fact that Michigan has been ranked dead last in the country in transparency. Continue...

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January 29, 2016 10:58 PM

Minneapolis has relaunched its “Results Minneapolis” transparency program, broadening the focus from how well city departments run to how well the city is doing at tackling major issues like economic inequality.

The program, introduced a decade ago to give the public a closer look at the performance of city government, was put on hold in late 2014. The city had previously held weekly public conferences to share data on emergency response times, building permits and a host of other operations.

No reports were issued or public results meetings held in 2015, while officials said they were aligning the process with city goals. Continue... 

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January 28, 2016 5:43 AM

Two lawsuits that stem from the 2013 election involving Washington state and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association could soon be resolved in a Thurston County courtroom.

The state sued the trade group, also known as GMA, in late 2013 after the state said the organization knowingly concealed the source of millions of dollars used to fight voter initiative I-522, which would have required the labeling of genetically modified food.

More that $20 million was spent on the "NO I-522" campaign and the initiative was ultimately defeated.

Washington state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson said it was the largest amount of money ever concealed in a Washington state election. Continue... 

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January 28, 2016 5:38 AM

The Orlando Police Department plans to launch an open data portal in March that will detail the race, sex and age of sexual offenders as well as where and when sexual offenses have taken place in the city.

The website will feature location-specific maps, graphs, and detailed spreadsheets.

The police department is the only agency in Florida and just one of thirty agencies in the country planning to release such data as part of a White House Program called the Police Data Initiative. 

White House spokesman Caroline Bettinger-Lopez said agencies across the country are trying to learn the extent of sex crimes. “If you don’t know a situation, you can’t necessarily come up with tailored responses. This data is going to fill that gap here and serve as a template for other police departments.” Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:25 AM

The Flint water crisis loomed large over a hearing Tuesday on a state bill that would provide an exemption from Freedom of Information Act laws for some public documents surrounding cybersecurity and energy infrastructure in Michigan.

“We’re trying to strike a balance here to protect against people with evil intent,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.

The bill would allow companies to share information with state regulators about cybersecurity and critical energy infrastructure issues without fear that the documents would become public. Open government advocates, including the Michigan Press Association and the Coalition for Open Government, have opposed the bill, saying it's a step backward.

“It clearly favors operators of so-called critical infrastructure businesses. What is proposed allows the proverbial fox to guard the chicken house," said Jane Briggs Bunting of the Open Government coalition in a letter to the committee. "The ongoing temptation, post-9/11, is to close off all information. It's been done repeatedly and represents a grave threat to the ideals of a democracy and republic.” Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:15 AM

The Oregon Legislature is set to adopt new rules that will make it easier to see how legislation is created and how the state does business.

Senate and House leaders expressed bipartisan support for the changes Tuesday during an annual meeting with press before the legislative session starts Feb. 1.

A major change in the rules is that anonymous amendments to bills will no longer be allowed. Legislators will have their names attached to amendments, and there will be an option to note if a lobbyist sponsored the amendment.

"I think that's going to be huge," House Speaker Tina Kotek said in praise of the new rules. Continue...

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January 28, 2016 5:10 AM

In Virginia, the Newport News City Council never took a public vote to authorize a $2 million settlement to a man in a recent wrongful conviction case — a common practice for local officials resolving lawsuits against the city that Freedom of Information Act experts say may violate state law.

The council authorized the city attorney to negotiate up to a certain undisclosed amount of money to settle the lawsuit in a closed session last year, but never took a public vote, City Attorney Collins L. Owens Jr. said.

Newport News city code designates who must authorize city settlements up to different amounts, but stops at $250,000. Continue...

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January 27, 2016 7:29 PM

Local government leaders in Florida are battling with open-government advocates over legislation that would leave it up to a judge to award attorney’s fees in public-records cases.

The bill (SB 1220) passed through a Senate panel Tuesday by a unanimous 3-0 vote, and the House version of the bill (HB 1021) won a committee’s approval on Monday.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, the Senate bill’s sponsor, said he’s only targeting a “cottage industry” of lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits on behalf of people filing “gotcha” requests with understaffed small local governments, not legitimate public records requests. “No one’s talking about the other side, when municipalities incur costs of their own attorney fees when they are frivolous cases,” Garcia said. “We’re only talking about one side.”

But Barbara Petersen, president of the news-media backed First Amendment Foundation, said the proposal “eviscerates our constitutional right of access by removing our ability to be assured of getting reimbursed for attorney’s fees when government has violated our rights.” Continue...

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