NFOIC’s State FOIA Friday for January 4, 2013

State FOIA Friday | Open Government News

A 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.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Pawtucket lawyer's challenge to Va. public records law

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Pawtucket lawyer Mark McBurney's challenge to Virginia's Freedom of Information Act will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 20. McBurney argues the law is unconstitutional because it allows only Virginia residents to seek access to public records. He is joined in challenging the act by The Virginia Coalition for Open Government (a member of NFOIC), the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, The American Society of News Editors, the Center of Investigative Reporting and other news organizations.

Visit The Providence Journal for the rest.

‘Free lunch’ suit yields new open meetings law in California

A new law that grew out of a lawsuit against the Tulare County Board of Supervisors took effect January 1 and could make it easier for citizens to challenge what they believe to be open meetings law violations without having to file a lawsuit. The law, SB 1003 by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) also offers a way for local governments to avoid litigation if they pledge to discontinue practices that prompt accusations that they are in violation of the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act. If the government agency refuses, the case can be taken to court.

Visit Visalia Times-Delta for the rest.

About California's Ralph M. Brown Act

Sixty years ago Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown of Modesto, acting in part on his own experiences with the secrecy of local government officials, authored California’s landmark open-meeting law to ensure bodies like boards of supervisors and city councils conducted their business in public. “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” states the preamble to the Ralph M. Brown Act. “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Visit Voice of Orange County for the rest.

Judge says Mich. insurance fund records are public

An insurance fund that slaps a fee on every Michigan car to pay for catastrophic injuries suffered in accidents has been ordered to open its books and demonstrate how it sets the annual rate. The decision by an Ingham County judge could shed more light on the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, which was created by the Legislature to reimburse insurance companies for claims that exceed $500,000.

Visit BloombergBusinessweek for the rest.

Nebraska lawmaker wants to make public records less costly

LINCOLN – A Lincoln lawmaker says he’s getting pushback from cities that don’t like a bill he’s working on to prevent public agencies from using exorbitant fees to thwart people from obtaining public documents. Sen. Bill Avery said he has a bill drafted that would limit public entities from using the cost of compiling public records as a way of discouraging requests.

Visit Nebraska for the rest.

Boynton Beach (Fl.) sued over public records request violations

Boynton Beach is being sued for its public records policy by First Amendment advocates who say the city is violating state law. Robert and Joel Chandler, of Lakeland, travel around the state making simple public records requests to check if cities are in compliance with the state's Government in the Sunshine Law. In November, the Chandler brother's breezed into Boynton Beach, where they were so displeased with the city's public records request system that they each filed a lawsuit.

Visit South Florida Sun-Sentinel for the rest.

Ohio treasurer Mandel settles suit over public records

The office of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has turned over once-denied documents and paid $5,250 to settle a lawsuit claiming it acted illegally by failing to provide public records. The agreement between the liberal-leaning political blog Plunderbund and Mandel’s office led last week to the dismissal of the blog’s filing that asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the release of records.

Visit Columbus Dispatch for the rest.

S.C. attorney general: Public records have limits

South Carolina's top prosecutor says he supports the public's right to know what its government is doing, but he draws the line when releasing information might jeopardize a criminal investigation. Attorney General Alan Wilson defended his office's decision not to release a report on the investigation into former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth, who pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor for using an inmate to do work at his home. Booth paid a $900 fine.

Visit SFGate for the rest.

New York State Committee on Open Government pushes for more online records

ALBANY — The state’s Committee on Open Government wants local and state governments to more proactively post records and information on their websites, limiting the need for Freedom of Information requests. The committee, in its annual report released this month, said New York laws should be changed to promote “proactive disclosure” by state and local governments. As technology improves, governments should expand their offerings of information about meetings and records on the Internet, said Robert Freeman, the committee’s executive director.

Visit The Journal News for the rest.