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

October 29, 2014 11:39 AM

Wen legislation passes the Maryland General Assembly unanimously, it usually means that it doesn't do much aside from make lawmakers look good. Such was the case with House Bill 658, which started life as an effort to make state government more transparent and was ultimately reduced to another summer study last spring.

Perhaps we're wrong. Maybe the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government ó which was given the chore of studying ways to reform the appeals process when a reporter or member of the public is refused government records under the Maryland Public Information Act ó will recommend bold ideas that lawmakers will approve when they reconvene in January. But that's not the usual outcome for such efforts.

News organizations including The Baltimore Sun can lobby as hard as they want to strengthen public access to records held by state and local governments, but legislators are usually reluctant to make waves. The majority make a kind of political calculus ó if average citizens aren't storming the gates over the issue, why take the chance that you might cause potentially embarrassing information to be released? Continue>>>

October 29, 2014 11:36 AM

The Port of Tacoma could pay up to $50,000 to defend its commission members against a lawsuit alleging they violated the state's Open Meetings Act by holding confidential meetings with the Port of Seattle commissioners over a planned operations alliance.

The commission unanimously approved last week an authorization for the port to pay legal fees of up to $50,000 to defend commission members in a lawsuit brought by Olympia open government advocate Arthur West. Any costs beyond $50,000 will be paid by the port's legal liability insurance carrier.

That same authorization also would allow the port to pay any fines or judgments against individual commissioners if the courts decide those confidential meetings violated the Open Meetings Act. State law allows governments to pay legal defense costs and judgments in cases brought against their governing officials if those officials acted in good faith as part of their official duties. Continue>>>

October 29, 2014 11:34 AM

In September, the White House announced a series of new initiatives as part of its second Open Government National Action Plan. Among them was a commitment to developing and implementing a governmentwide open-source software policy by the end of 2015.

But two of the leaders of that initiative -- Todd Park and Steven VanRoekel -- left the White House toward the end of the summer, raising questions about whether the program will stay on track.

Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Park and former U.S. CIO VanRoekel were in their respective positions for more than two years and played a role in the launch of the Digital Government Strategy, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the U.S. Digital Service. They also had a hand in writing the second open-government plan, which set a Dec. 31, 2015, target for developing an open-source software policy that, with the Digital Services Playbook, "will support improved access to custom software code developed for the federal government." Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:06 AM

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection violated the state's Freedom of Information Act when it denied a law firm's request for water pollution data, a Kanawha County judge ruled.

Circuit Judge Charles King ordered the DEP this week to provide the data to Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

The law firm sued the DEP after the agency denied its FOIA request in 2013 for the most recent quarterly data showing water pollution levels at coal mines statewide. Mine operators are required to file the data with the DEP to disclose pollution levels under state and federal clean water laws. Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:05 AM

A coalition of 50 groups urging more government transparency called on President Obama to publicly support legislation that would reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process.

The conglomerate - including government watchdogs, civil liberties groups and media advocacy groups ó wants a commitment that a number of reforms will remain in place after the president leaves office.

"Only statutory reform and your public commitment to that reform will ensure the commitments you have made last beyond your presidency," the coalition said in a letter sent Wednesday, adding that legislation would "breathe new life into your commitments." All of the reforms outlined are included in the FOIA Improvement Act sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:04 AM

The Georgia College Press Association and Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism teamed up to provide concerned citizens, lawmakers, students, and members of the media with insight into government transparency protocols. 'It's important to educate students,' said Jessica Farmer, Coordinator for the Georgia College Press Association.

The event on Oct. 17 had presentations from Jim Zachary, Director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, and Holly Manheimer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation as well as an afternoon roundtable discussion.

Following an introduction from Zachary, Manhemier began the talks with an overview of open records laws in the state. Manhemier began by explain the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the Department of Justice website, FOIA was passed on July 4, 1966. The act 'provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.' Manheimer would go on to say that those seeking information from their city, county or state would abide by the Open Records Act. Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:02 AM

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office four years ago promising the most transparent administration in history, but journalists and advocacy groups say his office instead tightly controls requests for public records on anything controversial and routinely delays or denies their release.

For decades, responding to requests under New York's Freedom of Information Law was the responsibility of individual state agencies. Current and former state officials say that began to change a year into Cuomo's administration, and now such requests are often routed through the governor's legal counsel.

Travis Proulx, former director of communications for the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said the shift was a reaction to an embarrassing story - a 2011 New York Times series on abuse of the disabled in state care that was based largely on public records. Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:02 AM

THE ISSUE: Freedom of Information Act; OUR OPINION: Legislature should make improvements to law a top priority

Do you believe the police should be held accountable when they shoot someone? Do you believe you have a right to know when your county or city council is considering raising your taxes? Do you believe when children die in state custody state agencies should be held accountable?

If so, youíd better tell your state lawmakers soon. These topics and others came up at a House subcommittee hearing this past week. Last month, a Senate committee considered the same issues. Lawmakers are looking at making changes to the state Freedom of Information Act, and they need to know you value government transparency.

One of the possible changes is a response to a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year declaring that autopsy records are medical records and therefore private. The very case on which the court made its ruling provides an excellent example of why this ruling jeopardizes South Carolinians. Continue>>>

October 28, 2014 10:01 AM

Sometimes the First Amendment guarantees access to public records (generally limited to court records). Often Freedom of Information Acts and Public Records Acts are seen as fulfilling broader First Amendment values, by facilitating speech about how the government operates. But in Thursday's Roe v. Anderson (W.D. Wash. Oct. 23, 2014), a federal district judge relied on the First Amendment to block a state public records request.

Washington law requires 'erotic dancers' to get licenses, and the Washington Public Records Act apparently mandates the release of licenses generally, including these licenses. But the dancers, the district judge held, 'have raised serious questions regarding whether' this violates their First Amendment rights, because revealing their names and other personal information can expose them to 'harassment and threats to their physical safety.î (Compare Doe v. Reed (2010), which applied First Amendment scrutiny to disclosure of the names of petition signers, though held that, given the government interests supporting such disclosure, the disclosure was indeed constitutional.) According to the Steve Maynard (Tacoma News Tribune), the man who requested the names said 'he was curious and he wants to pray for the strippers. ëI would pray for those dancers by name,' David Van Vleet said after the hearing. ëIím a ChristianÖ. We have a right to pray for people.í'

I should note that this case might be relied on by analogy in Second Amendment cases, in situations where people try to use public records laws to get the names of registered gun owners, or of registered holders of gun carry licenses. (The Supreme Court said, in D.C. v. Heller (2008), that there is no constitutional right to concealed carry, but some courts ó the Seventh and Ninth Circuit and the Illinois Supreme Court ó have held that there is a constitutional right to some form of carry, and in some states a license is required for any sort of carrying.) It's always uncertain, of course, how much courts will accept such analogies. Continue>>>

October 27, 2014 11:32 AM

Pennsylvanians have a strong interest in government transparency. The problem is that the Corbett administration apparently doesn't think so. If it did, lawyers representing the state would not have been in Commonwealth Court Tuesday to defend the indefensible.

The commonwealth's lawyers were there to speak on behalf of what amounts to a mockery of the state Right-to-Know law ó a policy that encourages public employees nightly to prune the number of emails they keep. The deleted emails are backed up by state servers for just five days before being permanently purged ó thus excluding any legal review.

This newspaper and others have sued, asking that the court stop the outrageous policy of destroying emails so soon and order that they be preserved for at least two years. On Tuesday, the commonwealth argued that the 2008 Right-to-Know law still gives the state the right to set its own records retention policies. Continue>>>

October 27, 2014 11:31 AM

While politicians at the state and local levels pledge to bring transparency to government, a lack of campaign finance transparency emanates from the Indiana Secretary of State's office. Twice a year during every election cycle, I check with the Madison County Clerk's office and the Election Division of the Secretary of State's office to review campaign finance reports.

The candidates, political parties and political action committees operating in Madison County are required to file a report at the county courthouse. It used to be a common practice that candidates for a seat in the legislature would file a courtesy copy of their finance report with the Madison County Clerk's office. Not any more!

Now to find out about the finances of a candidate for a seat in the Indiana House or Indiana Senate, the average resident has to go online to view the report. Continue>>>

October 27, 2014 11:30 AM

There is the goose, of course, but there's also the gander, an old clichÈ goes: What's good for one ought to be the same for the other. But let's not confuse them when discussing the duplicity of California's Legislature when it comes to transparency.

The Legislature, of course, passes laws that affect other branches of government as well as itself. As the state struggles with the archaic Public Records Act (PRA), with its dozens of exemptions, weak disclosure deadlines and lack of enforcement, lawmakers only nibble around its edges.

The PRA, of course, does not touch the Assembly and the Senate. Those bodies are governed by the Legislative Records Act (LRA), an equally weak transparency law. As long as they leave the PRA mostly untouched, lawmakers lack the impetus to toughen the LRA. Continue>>>

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