NFOIC's State FOIA Friday for March 1, 2013

March 1, 2013 4:15 PM

State FOIA FridayA few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

Proposal would make violations of open records, public meetings laws a misdemeanor in North Carolina

State Sen. Tom Apodaca is sponsoring a bill that would make violations of the state's open records and public meetings laws a misdemeanor. Currently, civil action is the only way to enforce those laws. Cosponsored by Sen. Thom Goolsby of Wilmington, the bill makes it a class 3 misdemeanor to deny access to public records or to violate the open meetings law. A class 3 misdemeanor carries a maximum $200 fine and up to 10 days of community service on the first offense. Currently, if a citizen or organization can't obtain a public record or government is violating open meetings law, they have to pursue a lawsuit themselves.

Visit Mountain Xpress for the rest.

Bill blocking public access to gun permit info on Mississippi governor’s desk

The Mississippi House yesterday sent the governor a bill to block public access to information about state-issued permits for people to carry concealed weapons. The move comes even as the Department of Public Safety has delayed responding to Freedom of Information requests for the records. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign House Bill 485, which is supported by the National Rifle Association. It has been backed by lawmakers upset that a newspaper in New York published the names and addresses of people who have concealed weapons permits. Supporters say allowing open records violates gun owners’ privacy.

Visit Mississippi Business Journal for the rest.

Bills make Va. government less visible, some worry

Consider this: While legislators at the General Assembly ostensibly did the people's business this winter in Richmond, many of their bills effectively restricted the right to obtain government records. The Assembly approved several bills to peel away provisions of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act that provide access to such documents. Among them are measures to exempt the correspondence of legislators' aides from public disclosure, and to close off public access to concealed-handgun-permit data kept at courthouses. ... "There's a whittling away every year, just in different ways and coming from different directions," said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Visit PilotOnline.com for the rest.

Editorial: (Mo.) Bill reinforces fact public records are public property

A bill making its way through the Legislature should help make sure public entities don't abuse their right to reasonable reimbursement for public access to public records. The bill, LB363, keeps state agencies and public entities from charging unreasonable amounts for such access. Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue cited one example where a person was charged more than $600 for 14 pieces of paper because of the legal costs that entity said would be required for the record retrieval. As always, Sen. Ernie Chambers described the issue eloquently: "One of the worst places where public officials offend is when they hold information from the public."

Visit McCook Daily Gazette for the rest.

Big Data, Open Government, and Sunlight in the states

Open States is the latest in a collection of Big Data-open government analysis tools from Sunlight Foundation. It has taken Sunlight Labs 4 years to scrape legislative data from 50 state websites (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), collect, sift, standardize, and make it all available in a single, comprehensive database that can be queried online by anyone via Open States API. Individuals can use Open States at its most basic level to find who represents them in their state legislature, explore a legislator’s position on any bill, and get alerts when related legislation is introduced. Beyond contact information, Open States lists committee memberships, bill sponsorship, campaign contributions in the two most recent election cycles, coverage in the media (news and blogs), and recent votes.

Visit Information Today, Inc. for the rest.

(Wisc.) State panel raises concerns about bill allowing charges for public records redactions

Government agencies could once again attempt to charge sizable fees as part of the release of public records on subjects such as police and crime, under a bill that came before an Assembly committee Wednesday. Republicans as well as one Democrat on the Assembly Committee on Government Operations expressed concern about the legislation, which would allow government agencies to charge new fees for blacking out private information from records before they are released. Some government officials say they need the added fees to deal with large requests and not pass the costs on to taxpayers.

Visit Journal Sentinel for the rest.

Public records law faces budget ax in California

The public’s right to know may again become the victim of California’s budget troubles. Last year, the state decided it would not reimburse local governments for the cost of notifying the public about government meetings, to save about $20 million a year. Because the California constitution prevents the state from imposing mandates without funding them, the cut in funding suspended parts of open-meetings law. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget to take effect this summer continues that situation — and would now invalidate certain public-records requirements as well.

Visit UTSanDiego.com for the rest.

News results show papers displeased with state sunshine laws

A Google News search reveals that one issue on the top of newspaper reporter’s topic list is the strength and weaknesses of public records and open meetings laws. Last week, I wrote about The Post-Bulletin in Minnesota which reported on an illegal closed meeting of the Pine Island City Council. A search for “public records open meetings” yields several headlines relating to the strength of state sunshine laws. Included is another story about a paper noticing the flaws in state transparency.

Visit Sunshine Review for the rest.