Volume 2, Issue 1

FOI InSight, an open government newsletter
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FOI InSight is a publication from the National Freedom of Information Coalition featuring and aggregating news and analysis about FOI and open government issues, and delivering items of interest to and about our state member organizations, partners and stakeholders. 

We welcome suggestions for future newsletters and ask that you send us ideas for and links to news about your organization and other FOI and open government-related items and events.

 

 Top NFOIC Stories 


 

FOIA victory against CIA in Knight FOI Fund-supported case

In a major ruling in a case supported by the Knight FOI Fund, a Washington DC-based federal district judge has ruled that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot use the CIA Act of 1949 as a catchall rationale for avoiding disclosures under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, which may or may not be appealed, is a victory for attorney Kel McClanahan and Virginia-based National Security Counselors, which had been awarded grants from the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) to support the legal action it began in 2011.  Continue ...

 

Seattle-area Housing Authority institutes transparency reforms

A public housing agency serving suburban Seattle, Wash., will institute a sweeping series of transparency measures as a result of a lawsuit made possible by the inspired persistence of an engaged public housing resident and a litigation grant made under the Knight FOI Fund. Ms. Ference and her attorney, Katherine George, reached a settlement agreement with the Housing Authority to ensure that the public can learn about programs of the agency as well as its shadow entity, a nonprofit called Moving King County Residents Forward.  Continue ...

 

 News from the States 


 

New Mexico groups sue for release of behavioral health audit

One of the main points of controversy in the suspension of funding to behavioral health providers is the secrecy of the audit that prompted the findings. Various media outlets, and the accused non-profits themselves, have sought to see the audit. So far, only ancillary portions of the audit have been released. NFOIC member New Mexico Foundation for Open Government tweeted that they "will be joining the legal fray to crack open the contents of the secret Behavioral Health audit."  Continue ...

 

First Amendment expert named to Florida legislative panel on transparency

Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) today announced the appointment of Barbara A. Petersen, President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, to a legislative panel that will evaluate and recommend how to provide better public access to state financial records and contracts. Called the User Experience Task Force, the group is tasked by law with developing and recommending a design for consolidating existing state-managed websites that provide public access to state operational and fiscal information into a single website. “Barbara Petersen is Florida's respected guardian of open records, open meetings and open government," said President Gaetz. “Her leadership of the First Amendment Foundation gives credibility and reliability to this important work."  Continue ...

 

Who's counting? Boston Globe probe raises doubts on public meeting quorums

While writing a story recently about the Massachusetts state pharmacy board, [Boston Globe staff reporter Todd Wallack] noticed something odd: Only half the board members showed up for a meeting last summer — too few for a quorum — but the board members went ahead with the meeting anyway and voted on one item after the next. It turns out it was part of a much wider problem, raising questions about how frequently obscure boards comply with all the rules for public meetings throughout New England.  Continue ...

 

US seeks to shield emails about emergency network

The Department of Justice obtained temporary legal relief to block the release of emails to and from an Iowa sheriff who serves on a federal board charged with building a high-speed broadband network for emergency responders. Department lawyers requested an injunction in federal court in Des Moines to prevent Iowa's Story County from releasing Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald's emails to the news outlet Politico.  Continue ...

 

State employees shoot down VA open records access bill

A subcommittee mostly comprised of state employees dropped a bill Tuesday that would have expanded rights to public records to non-Virginians. And local government lobbyists were there to back them up. . . . Virginia is one of a handful of states in which public bodies aren’t required to respond to open records requests from out-of-state residents. The U.S. Supreme Court determined in a monumental decision this spring that it has every right to do so, backing those who support the status quo.  Continue ...

 

Hunting local public records is faster than federal FOIA -- but with a catch

It's been almost 50 years since the Freedom of Information Act's enactment and accessing information at the federal, state and local level has almost turned into a document lottery.[MuckRock spent several days] breaking down what to expect when sending a response and then took a better look at the difference between federal and state/local agencies. Analyzing 907 completed . . . requests, [they] found state and local agencies were 20 percent more likely to complete requests in the first 30 days as compared to federal agencies.  Continue ...

 

 Members in the News 


 

Public meetings and records are focus of Iowa workshops

Open-government advocates are sponsoring three workshops next month to help Iowa citizens become more engaged, according to a news release. It’s the second year for the program sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. This year’s workshop is titled “The People Have the Power: Making a Difference in Your Community.” Workshop topics will include public meetings and public records, and resources available through the new Iowa Public Information Board.  Continue ...

 

NMFOG announces 2013 Dixon Freedom Award winners

NMFOG announces 2013 Dixon Freedom Award winners Five recipients were selected by FOG Board members to receive the organization’s top award for open government. The award, which has been given since 2002, honors NM FOG co-founder and longtime Board member William S. Dixon. Dixon was an attorney and leading defender of the First Amendment and public rights under the New Mexico Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).  Continue ...

 

Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana wins national award for Sunshine Headquarters

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), the NFOIC member organization that co-hosted the 2013 FOI Summit in New Orleans, has won a national award for its new "Sunshine Headquarters" Web portal from the Governmental Research Association (GRA). GRA is a national organization of individuals and groups who study and make recommendations on state and local policy issues.  Continue ...

 

FOIFT awards inaugural Open Government Lawmaker of the Year Award

Prominent Texas legislators urged Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas conference attendees Friday to remain vigilant in their open government and free speech advocacy. Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, who received the organization’s inaugural Open Government Lawmaker of the Year Award, said he was raised in a family that valued free speech and noted that many elected officials support open government and First Amendment rights.  Continue ...

 

First Amendment Foundation (Florida) Training Seminars

It's that time again! FAF's annual Sunshine Seminars are just around the corner. These one day seminars provide an overview of Florida's public records and public meetings requirements in an informative and interactive format. The seminars are helpful for anyone who uses public records as well as for agency employees who are required to stay current on the law. CLE credits from the Florida Bar are pending.  Continue ...

 

State FOIA Friday

See the latest State FOIA Friday for FOI and local open government news items selected selected for this weekly feature. Keywords from the issue of Friday, August 23, included the following: Washington Public Records Act, California Brown Act, California Public Records Act, Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, Michigan FOIA, Montana Public Records Law, Florida Sunshine Law . . . Read more from the latest State FOIA Friday and be sure to check out our archives from Fridays past.

 

 Analysis & Commentary 


 

Jeff Roberts, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition: What is a “reasonable” CORA fee?

Unlike the statute governing the release of criminal-justice records, the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) says nothing about the fees that local governments and the state may charge to research and retrieve all other public records. So it is up to the courts to provide guidance. But what is a “reasonable” fee?  Continue ...

 

Frank Gibson: Tennessee 'sunshine' dimmed by one watchdog's assessment

It will not come as news to anyone that Tennessee’s public meetings and open records laws fall in the lower ranks when compared to the open government laws of the other 49 states. Now a new study by the Better Government Association that claims Tennessee’s separate government conflict of interest and whistleblower protection laws rank higher than our “sunshine” and public records (Freedom of Information) statutes.  Continue ...

 

Dennis Hetzel, Ohio Coalition for Open Government: Ohio Newspaper Association completes thorough revise of ‘Public Notice FAQ’

As most of you know, major revisions happened to Ohio’s laws involving public notices in 2011, and we still get a lot of member questions. This is a subject that never goes away, and that makes sense. First of all, there is a reason why the word “public” is in public notices.  Continue ...

 

FOI International: Countries with more established FOI laws have better human development, still perceived as corrupt

Freedom of Information Act advocates have consistently claimed that institutionalizing the right to information will benefit countries, particularly in addressing corruption. They are not lying. By comparing indices on corruption, human development, and years of having an FOI law across 168 countries, [there is] support to the assumption that having an FOI law leads to lower levels of perceived corruption. . . . An intriguing link, however, is between ratings of FOI law effectiveness and the perceived level of corruption in a country.  Continue ...

 

 

About NFOIC
The National Freedom of Information Coalition protects our right to open government. We are a nonpartisan alliance of citizen-driven nonprofit freedom of information organizations, academic and First Amendment centers, journalistic societies and attorneys. Twice annually, NFOIC awards grants to strengthen state coalitions and member organizations, foster their growth, and support a broad range of open government endeavors in individual states. The NFOIC also administers the Knight FOI Fund, which offers financial support to defray costs and expenses in open government lawsuits throughout the year.

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