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 http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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September 6, 2011 4:18 PM

September 6, 2011

From MediaShift Idea Lab:

At first blush, state legal codes seem pretty simple. You've got titles, which are composed of chapters, which in turn comprise sections -- or something very much like that. It's a straightforward hierarchy, and you might not think that there's a lot of interesting metadata to be extracted from them. But it turns out that a rich mesh of metadata lies just beneath the surface, and by mining that metadata, The State Decoded, a 2011 Knight News Challenge project, is creating an innovative method of navigating state codes.

Here are a few of the most interesting sources of metadata that the project is extracting so far.

Visit PBS for the rest of the story.

September 2, 2011 4:55 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

Open meetings change urged at meeting of Tennessee County Commissioners Association

From the Shelbyville Times-Gazette:

Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government told the Times-Gazette this morning that most state agencies fall under the exact same rules as local governments under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also called the "Sunshine Law." It is only the General Assembly itself which operates under separate rules, said Gibson, and that's because the General Assembly is created by the state's constitution.

Visit Times-Gazette.com for the rest of the story.

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Virginia governor weighing legislation to allow public bodies to meet electronically

From The Daily Progress:

The office of Gov. Bob McDonnell is considering putting forth legislation that would bring significant changes to Virginia's open-government laws by allowing public bodies to meet via telephone, video conference and other forms of electronic communication, according to state officials.

[..]

The governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, which focuses on improving government efficiency and transparency, recommended "modernizing" the state's sunshine laws at a meeting Wednesday in Richmond. A McDonnell spokeswoman said Thursday that officials are considering turning the proposal into legislation for the next session of the General Assembly.

Visit The Daily Progress for the rest of the story.

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Board members clash over FOI issue

From The Hartford Courant:

PLAINVILLE —— A debate on Monday by the board of education about the release of information under the state's freedom of information laws turned into a confrontation between two members.

The root of the disagreement was a press release the school system issued earlier this month questioning the actions of board member Andrea Saunders that enabled her husband, town council member Scott Saunders, to avoid paying for copies of 224 documents he had requested under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Visit ctnow.com for the rest of the story.

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Federal report cites state's wrongdoing in nursing-home ombudsman program

From the Sun Sentinel:

Federal investigators have determined the state's Department of Elder Affairs violated the U.S. Older Americans Act by interfering with what is supposed to be an independent nursing-home watchdog program, officials announced Thursday afternoon.

The findings cite a series of violations, including muzzling the program's communication with the news media and restricting its ability to lobby the Legislature on behalf of nursing-home residents. The report also criticized the department's selection and firing of volunteers who make up the bulk of the watchdog program's workforce, saying that "it must be clear to the volunteers that they work for and are answerable only to the Long Term Care Ombudsman."

Visit Sunsentinel.com for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 4:54 PM

September 1, 2011

From OMB Watch:

Yesterday, OMB Watch submitted its recommendations for the Obama administration's national plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The administration will unveil its plan, with new concrete commitments to increase transparency, at the international OGP meeting on Sept. 20.

Seven other countries will also announce their national open government plans at that summit, organized around the United Nations General Assembly meeting. For the U.S. as well as the other participants, OGP has been an impetus to action for transparency. The national plan to be released in September is an important opportunity for the administration to expand on its progress in strengthening open government in order to empower Americans and build a better democracy.

Among the ideas offered, OMB Watch encouraged the administration to:

  1. Transform Regulations.gov into a one-stop shop for citizens to learn about rulemaking
  2. Establish federal website standards that encourage proactive disclosure, identification of public priorities, and visualization tools
  3. Improve Data.gov with common data formats, identifiers, and user-friendly interfaces
  4. Strengthen records management with smarter IT investments and email policy
  5. Make regulatory compliance information more user-friendly
  6. Promote corporate accountability with better disclosure

Visit OMBWatch.org for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 4:42 PM

September 1, 2011

From Wyoming Tribune Eagle:

SUNDANCE -- A legislative committee advanced two bills here Wednesday that would make significant changes to the state's open-meetings and public documents laws.

The Joint Judiciary Committee directed legislative staff to prepare proposal legislation for its next meeting, Oct. 13-14 in either Evanston or Laramie. At that point, the panel will decide whether to support the bills in the budget session of the Legislature in January.

Visit WyomingNews.com for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 9:28 AM

September 1, 2011

From Rome News-Tribune:

ATLANTA — Complaints of illegal government secrecy have more than doubled during last year, Attorney General Sam Olens told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

He was testifying about legislation he drafted to update the state’s Sunshine Law that requires state and local government meetings and documents to be public except in limited exceptions. His proposal, House Bill 397, would boost the fine for violations to $1,000. The current fine for withholding documents is $100 and $500 for illegal meetings.

[...]

One media attorney was not enthusiastic about the whole notion of revising the Sunshine Law. Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation [a member of NFOIC -- eds.], told the committee the legislation could become a way for open-government opponents to attach amendments that weaken the current law.

Visit RN-T.com for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 9:23 AM

From postcrescent.com:

MADISON — A website created by law five years ago to provide the public a window into state government spending has limited value in keeping taxpayers informed, state auditors have concluded.

In a report released Wednesday, the Legislative Audit Bureau said design problems and a lack of reporting by state agencies have hampered the Contract Sunshine site, which is administered by the Government Accountability Board.

Visit postcrescent.com for the rest of the story.

August 31, 2011 2:46 PM

August 31, 2011

From thesouthern.com:

CHICAGO - Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation that allows the state more time to respond to Freedom of Information Act from so-called ``recurrent requesters.''

Quinn's office says the Illinois governor signed the measure into law Friday and it takes effect immediately. The law also allows government entities to charge for the actual costs of retrieving information.

Visit thesouthern.com for the rest of the story.

August 31, 2011 2:34 PM

From Statesman Journal:

A[n] [Oregon] state government website is one of three nominated in its category for recognition by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

The organization has nominated data.oregon.gov as one of three finalists in the open government category. The site allows users to browse, search and save their own data sets. Others nominated in this category were from New Jersey and North Carolina.

Visit StatesmanJournal.com for the rest of the story.

August 26, 2011 4:31 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

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Dem. lawmaker proposes repeal of Legislative Open Records Act

From Los Angeles Times Blog:

A Democratic legislator has proposed repealing a long-standing law that government watchdogs have argued protects the Legislature from public disclosure.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill Thursday that would effectively gut the Legislative Open Records Act, eliminating special legal exemptions that lawmakers carved out for themselves decades ago so they would not have to operate with the same level of transparency required of almost everyone else in government.

Visit PolitiCal for the rest.

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SPJ supports Chicago Tribune in freedom of information case

From Society of Professional Journalists:

INDIANAPOLIS—The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief challenging the University of Illinois Board of Trustees’ attempt to conceal records involving preferential treatment of well-connected applicants to the state university system.

The brief was filed Friday (August 19) in support of the Chicago Tribune Co. after the Board of Trustees appealed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois requiring disclosure of the material. The University maintains that the records are protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which was established to shield student academic records from public view for privacy reasons. However, since it was enacted, the law has been widely abused to shield information about everything from disciplinary proceedings for serious crimes to parking tickets.

Visit SPJ.org for the rest.

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Impact of Gulf spill’s underwater dispersants Is examined

From New York Times Blog:

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP sought and obtained permission to use dispersants [Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527], detergent-like compounds, to break up the 200 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude, into tiny droplets that would mix throughout the water column, trying to lessen the immediate impact of the oil slick on fragile coastal ecosystems.

[...]

As the situation in the Gulf worsened and questions about the safety of Corexit spread like, well, leaking oil, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information about the composition and safety of the dispersants listed as eligible for use. When the federal agency did not comply, Earthjustice sued on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Visit Green Blog for the rest.

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Gov. Rick Scott's lost emails dim right to know

Opinion from Orlando Sentinel:

So far, news that emails from Gov. Rick Scott's transition got deleted hasn't fueled much outrage. After all, why care about electronic messages that disappeared from the time between the new governor's election and inauguration?

Here's why: During transitions, governors begin setting the agendas for their terms, start hiring the people to carry them out, and solidify their alliances with special interests. It's no wonder that Florida's government-in-the-sunshine law requires that any records from transitions be preserved and made available to the public. State archives include transition records dating back decades.

Visit OrlandoSentinel.com for the rest.

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August 26, 2011 3:54 PM

Friday, August 26, 2011 -- From American University Washington College of Law:

In a development that barely could have been envisioned by the authors of the Freedom of Information Act four decades ago, and with a force that has been accelerating around the globe, people in more than 85 nations of the world now enjoy the benefits of "government transparency" laws akin to the FOIA.

In the United States, "Freedom of Information Day" is celebrated each year on or near March 16 (the birthday of James Madison), and now since 2002 members of the international transparency community around the world likewise have celebrated "International Right-to-Know Day" annually on September 28, a day marking their progress, commitment, and unity of purpose.

Visit American University Washington College of Law for agenda and registration.

August 26, 2011 3:45 PM

Friday, August 26, 2011 -- Opinion from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times Blog:

Gov. Rick Scott's magically deleted email debacle is starting to sound a bit ridiculous already, even though he's ordered an "investigation" by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

As you may recall, St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald capitol reporter Michael C. Bender went looking for some emails from the governor and his transition team while Scott was Florida's governor-elect and was told on August 18 that the emails he'd requested months ago were deleted in April.

Visit The Pulp for the rest of the opinon.

August 26, 2011 10:00 AM

From the ACLU:

NEW YORK (August 25, 2011) – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit challenging the government’s failure to release documents about the FBI’s nationwide system of collecting and sharing so-called "Suspicious Activity Reports" from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The lawsuit seeks information about the nationwide eGuardian program, launched in 2009, which allows the FBI to collect information about vague and expansively defined "suspicious activity" from law enforcement and intelligence officials across the country, as well as from the public. The program appears to give broad discretion to law enforcement officials to monitor and collect information about innocent people engaged in commonplace activities, and to store that data in criminal intelligence files without any evidence of wrongdoing. There are also serious concerns that the system opens the door to racial profiling and other improper practices.

Visit ACLU.org for the rest of the story.

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