NFOIC’s State FOIA Friday for July 26, 2013

From NFOIC:  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.

Wisconsin DOJ sets 3 seminars on public records, meetings

Image of Access keyMADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Justice has scheduled three seminars in October on the state's public records and open meetings laws. Online registration for the free events will open in September. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's office recommends registering early because space is limited. The first meeting is Oct. 11 in Madison and the second is Oct. 29 in Waukesha. The third is a webinar done over the Internet on Oct. 31. It is broken into two parts, with the open meetings portion in the morning and the public records law in the afternoon.


California appellate court again says all cops in pepper-spray incident must be named publicly

A state appellate court has ruled in favor of a public records lawsuit by the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, saying all of the UC Davis Police officers involved in the 2011 pepper-spray incident must be named publicly. This is the third such court ruling, but each time there has been an immediate stay to allow the officers' union a chance to appeal, the Sacramento Bee reports. The union is mulling the decision to appeal to the state supreme court, the Bee and the Times report.


Hanover County Board of Supervisors plans to ask the Virginia General Assembly to modify the state’s open meeting laws

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors plans to ask the Virginia General Assembly to modify the state’s open meeting laws to allow small groups of public officials to meet without notice. Hanover Board Chairman W. Canova Peterson IV has proposed an amendment to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that would allow three or more members to meet and discuss public business without triggering the requirement that the public be notified of the date, time and place.


Letter, petition rip Port of Port Angeles over rehiring

PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles commissioners received a letter this week from a state open government group chastising the commission and offering training on open government laws. They also were presented with a petition to remove Jeff Robb, former port executive director, from his current position as port environmental director. The letter from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, signed by coalition President Toby Nixon, called the commission to task for creating a position for and rehiring Robb after he resigned without public notice or advertising the position.


Making Maryland more transparent

When it comes to accessing public information, the Free State isn't all that free. The law requires state and local government agencies to make records of all kinds available to the public, and although it is allowed certain exceptions, the government is supposed to err on the side of disclosure. But in practice, requests under Maryland's Public Information Act are routinely subject to delays, responses are frequently incomplete and the fees charged for accessing material every Marylander is supposed to have a right to see are often arbitrary and excessive.

The Center for Public Integrity ranks the states on its "corruption risk" — essentially, a measure of the effectiveness of open records, transparency and ethics laws and procedures — and Maryland gets a D-, ranking 40th out of the 50 states. Among its failings is a weak public records law that is even weaker in practice, in part because citizens have no realistic recourse for complaining about delays, denials and prohibitive costs.


Open government in Texas is getting more open thanks to new state laws

Don’t fall off your chair when you hear this, but the Legislature has enacted major changes in how Texans can monitor their local, county and state governments. These changes are for the better for both officials and the public. Texas is the first state in the nation to create a new way to monitor the work and deliberations of government officials. Each government, whether it be city council, school district, county commissioners court or a state agency, is now allowed to create an Internet message board where officials, both elected and appointed, can publicly discuss government business away from officially called meetings.

But there’s one caveat. The public now has a right to listen in, or rather read, what’s being said.


Illinois Appellate Court narrows Attorney General's FOIA opinion on communications on elected officials' private devices

On July 16, 2013, the Appellate Court of Illinois for the Fourth District issued an opinion in City of Champaign v. Madigan, 2013 IL App (4th) 120662, that upheld the Illinois Attorney General's (AG) binding opinion (Public Access Opinion No. 11-006) requiring the City of Champaign to provide certain emails and text messages stored on public officials' private computers and electronic devices in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Importantly, however, the appellate court significantly narrowed the AG's opinion, making clear that emails and text messages stored on public officials' private computers and electronic devices are "public records" only when the communications are sent or received during a public meeting.


Seminar features overview, helpful tips on open government laws

A seminar blending government officials, journalists and private citizens on Wednesday afternoon focused on the high points and intricacies of open records and open meetings laws in Kansas. Topics broached by a panel of experts or audience questions covered technical violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act to rights and limitations of requestors and custodians of records under the Kansas Open Records Act.