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 26, 2016 6:14 PM

A Virginia bill that would have allowed the government to shield the names of police officers from the public was killed by a legislative committee Thursday after a fierce debate that pitted open records advocates against law enforcement groups.

The measure was introduced in response to a court ruling last year that directed the state to turn over the names and employment dates of thousands of law enforcement officials to The Virginian-Pilot, which is trying to determine whether officers who get fired are landing jobs at another agency.

Supporters of the bill said the release and publication of names could put officers in danger at a time of heightened tension between law enforcement and the public. But opponents said the measure went too far and would prevent the public from shining a light on inappropriate behavior. Continue...

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February 25, 2016 7:13 PM

Government transparency was the reoccurring theme this week at a Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee hearing, as lawmakers pushed for the passage of multiple bills that would beef up requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

As it now stands, the Open Meetings Act requires local- and state-level public bodies to hold open sessions in a location that is accessible to attendees, provide the public adequate notice of those sessions, and allow them to view the respective meeting minutes.

The act’s goals are to strengthen the people’s trust in government, guarantee that the government is held accountable and better allow the public to effectively participate in the political deliberations and decisions that affect them. Continue...

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February 25, 2016 7:06 PM

The Sumner County Board of Education must accept records requests via email and telephone by next week, according to a Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday.

The school system requested a stay by the appeals court last month, which would have delayed the implementation of a new public records policy by March 1.

However, the court found “no grounds to reverse the trial court’s decision” regarding the request.

Sumner County Judge Dee David Gay ruled in November that the school system violated the Tennessee Public Records Act by denying a records request in March 2014. The requester made the request over email and by telephone. The Sumner County Board of Education voted unanimously Dec. 1 to appeal the ruling. Continue...

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February 25, 2016 6:56 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature’s exemption from the requirements of the state’s open meetings law is unconstitutional, a conservative-leaning think tank said Thursday.

Attorney General Maura Healey declined to wade into the dispute, however. 

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute said the self-exemption restricts public access to certain legislative meetings and undermines the constitutional tenet that government be accountable for its actions.

In a letter to Healey, a Democrat, Pioneer asked that she issue an informal advisory opinion agreeing with its contention that the exemption written into the open meeting law was unconstitutional. Continue...

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February 25, 2016 6:42 PM

The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit that accuses state senators of violating the Sunshine Law. Progress Missouri filed suit after being kicked out of Senate hearings on multiple occasions while videotaping proceedings.

The group's appeal to the state Supreme Court comes after the circuit judge of Cole County sided with the Senate. The high court heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday. 

The Senate says it will grant Progress Missouri videotaping privileges if it registers as media with the Capitol News Association. But representatives from the organization, which is heavily involved in advocacy work, say that filing as a media organization would significantly change the nature of their projects. Continue...

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February 25, 2016 6:36 PM

Opposition from a state agency and several local governments Wednesday doomed proposed legislation intended to modernize Colorado’s open records law by requiring that public records kept in database formats be available to the public in similar formats.

The demise of SB 16-037, however, won’t end efforts to address long-standing problems with access to digital records under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). One of the bill’s opponents, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, has agreed to convene a stakeholders’ group to work on a possible compromise.

Colorado journalists and the public are too often denied records in a format that allows for searching, sorting and aggregating. Public records kept in databases and spreadsheets are sometimes withheld entirely because governments say they aren’t required to redact confidential information and release public portions. Continue....

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February 24, 2016 6:56 PM

Facing scrutiny and criticism from civil rights and open government groups, a leading state lawmaker said Tuesday he was considering changes to proposed legislation that would shield police video and 911 recordings from the public.

"This is a work in progress," state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) said of his bill (S788), which would exempt such recordings and transcripts from the New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, during a transparency forum hosted by the Bergen County chapter of the NAACP.

The measure, introduced at the beginning of the legislative session, comes as police departments across the state are beginning to use body-worn camera technology amid a national climate of scrutiny of police shootings. Continue...

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February 24, 2016 6:52 PM

When was the last time you used microfilm or microfiche to find information? Does the phrase “on-line bulletin board” bring to mind that screeching noise associated with dial-up connections from 20 years ago?

That’s how long it’s been since the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) was amended to ensure access to public records “kept only in miniaturized or digital form.” This section of the law, with its tech terms from the 1990s and earlier, is so antiquated and so nonspecific that it’s practically useless.

Vital information about our state and local governments is stored in databases and spreadsheets: salaries, budgets, building permits, revenue, spending … the list goes on. But requesting databases and spreadsheets is a crapshoot in Colorado. Continue...

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February 24, 2016 6:47 PM

Police departments operated by Indiana private colleges would remain exempt from following the same crime reporting requirements as other law enforcement agencies, including those serving public colleges, under a measure approved Monday by a Senate committee.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, was approved by the Civil Law committee on a 7-0 vote. It would require the University of Notre Dame and the 10 other private colleges in Indiana with police departments to comply with a limited number of provisions of the state's Public Records Act.

Critics, however, say private college police departments would not be required to do anything that they aren't already required to do under federal law. Continue...

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February 24, 2016 6:40 PM

Some current and former elected officials are calling for more transparency in response to no-bid arrangements the University of Nebraska has used on some of its biggest construction projects.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, former Gov. Dave Heineman and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert were among those advocating for transparency and public bidding after an investigative report raised concerns about the university's handling of projects. 

The report detailed how NU has built about $691 million in new facilities without the university issuing public bids by setting up private corporations and making other arrangements that shield spending details from the public. Continue...

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February 24, 2016 6:35 PM

Residents across Wisconsin are invited to free events exploring the importance of open records laws, and how to use them to obtain critical information about the actions of government.

The eight-city “Open Government Traveling Show” by open government advocates comes in the wake of unprecedented attacks on open records laws from state lawmakers and others.

The events will take place from March 15 to March 17 as part of national Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of access to public information. Continue...

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February 23, 2016 5:53 PM

If you follow transparency and open-records news, you might have heard about what’s going on in Virginia, where the state Senate last week approved a bill to make the names and training files of law-enforcement officials “excluded from mandatory disclosure” under the state Freedom of Information Act.

In other words: If the bill becomes law in its current form, when a reporter or private citizen asks a local police department for a list of officers on staff, the department could choose to simply reject it. It’s a remarkable piece of legislation, and journalists in the state have been doing a good job noting its unprecedented nature and pointing out how the law’s broad language raises some fairly absurd questions about what it might mean in practice.

What you might not know is that the journalist whose digging seems to have prompted this proposal pursued a very similar line of reporting not too many years ago. Continue...

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