FOIA News Headlines
VT Supreme Court rules ballots are public records Jun 07, 2012
Montpelier, VT On Friday, April 29, 2011, in a 4-1 decision, the Vermont Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Price v. Town of Fairlee establishing that there was sufficient public interest in election ballots that they be considered public documents. The court held that election ballots must be concealed for 90 days after the election and could then either be destroyed at the discretion of the town clerk or must be released to the public. However, the court did note that records held in a pending request could not be destroyed. 
Little Rock, Arkansas: On Thursday, February 16 the Arkansas Supreme Court delivered its decision in Thomas v. Hall and held that police use-of-force reports fall under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and are subject to release. The original request was filed by attorney Keith Hall relating to a client who was struck by an off duty police officer. Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas denied the request claiming that the reports were exempt under an exemption for employee-evaluation or job-performance records. The circuit court ruled in favor of Hall and the Supreme Court affirmed the decision. Associate Justice Robert L. Brown wrote the decision and stated, "We liberally interpret the FOIA to accomplish its broad and laudable purpose that public business be performed in an open and public manner." Chief Justice Jim Hannah concurred, writing, "Because the keeper of the requested records claiming the exemption failed to meet the burden of proof, I agree that the decision of the circuit court must be affirmed." You can find a list of exemptions to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act here.
Judge seals documents in UND nickname case Feb 09, 2012
"A judge has sealed all future documents in the University of North Dakota "Fighting Sioux" nickname lawsuit against the NCAA and delayed a hearing, hoping to aid settlement talks.
"Both parties have continued good faith negotiations with an eye toward settling the issues of this litigation amicably," Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke said in his order. "At such time as it appears to the court that settlement negotiations have reached an impasse and trial will be necessary, this order will be immediately rescinded."" Template:2.default
Española School Board's Secret Agenda Dec 16, 2011
"The Española School Board has claimed transparency will be the hallmark of its superintendent hiring process. So far, the Board has gone as far as skirting state open meetings and public records laws to keep the process under wraps.
The Board may have violated the state Open Meetings Act during a Nov. 1 closed-door meeting where it discussed the superintendent search process and other topics it is required to discuss publicly, according to an agenda of the meeting viewed by the SUN.
An agenda of the meeting distributed to the public stated the Board would meet in closed session to evaluate Superintendent David Cockerham and discuss a land transaction. Once behind closed doors, the Board followed a separate, different agenda listing six separate items, which had been kept from the public until Tuesday." Template:2.default
NH Supreme Court limits access to police records Nov 14, 2011
Concord, NH On Wednesday, November 2, 2011 the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued its ruling in David Montenegro v. City of Dover and affirmed the lower courts decision to exempt information on police surveillance systems under the New Hampshire Right to Know Law. The lawsuit was originally filed by Montenegro in January 2010 seeking access to information relating to the capabilities of police surveillance equipment including operation times and recording retention time. In response to the request, the city released redacted information, claiming that parts of the request were exempt under security and police exemptions. The court affirmed this interpretation, stating, "This information is of such substantive detail that it could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law by providing those who wish to engage in criminal activity with the ability to adjust their behaviors in an effort to avoid detection." The court did side with the requester on the issue of job titles and ordered the titles of security monitors to be released under the records act. 
Richmond, VA On Friday, November 4, 2011 the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Christian v. State Corporation Commission that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) was not a public body according to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The court arrived at its decision based on the numerous existing laws governing the actions of the SCC combined with the Virginia legislature's rejection of a 1995 bill to incorporate the commission into the FOIA law. The court felt that it could not override the legislatures clear wishes on the issue. 
Virginia law currently includes all private agencies that are "supported wholly or principally by public funds" or entities which were "created to perform delegated functions of the public body or to advise the public body". 
The fight for Gov. Perry's emails Sep 22, 2011
Perry's office has stopped deleting e-mails every seven days as a result of Washburn's efforts. Many have said that the policy is bad for transparency, including the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. Washburn has states he's going to attempt to archive one years worth of the governor's e-mails, but must raise over $62,000 to do it.
However, after the first weeks of requests in 2011, the price for Perry's e-mails have increased dramatically. In 2007 it took 31.5 man hours to fulfill a request for a weeks worth of e-mails. The cost totalled to $568. In 2011, the request stated it would take 109 man hours to complete and would cost a total of $2,304.'
John Washburn, a 45-year-old computer software tester from Wisconsin, was disgusted. He found Governor Perry's policy of deleting nearly all of his emails every seven days to be "obnoxiously short," and was not about to stand for it.
In response to the policy, Washburn developed a computer program that requests all emails sent to and from the Governor's office every four days. The first batch yielded over 8,000 emails, which Washburn promptly put up online.
Illinois Freedom of Information Act and Lisa Madigan Sep 08, 2011
"There is legislation working its way through our state Senate that would allow local governments to post public notices only on their Web sites. It sounds innocent enough. But it is bad legislation that in the end will cost more and mean you will know less about what is going on in your community. For many of the poor or those in some of our more rural areas, it means you will be cut off completely from critical local information." Template:2.default
The Court of Judiciary is charged with investigating complaints filed against judges and determining what disciplinary action, if any, is necessary. Current law states that 10 of the 16 members are appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The proposed bill would reconstitute the Court with 12 members, all of whom would be appointed by the speakers of the House and Senate, and only 5 of whom would be judges.
Ohio Legislature considers new plan JobsOhio, a new private agency funded by public dollars Mar 05, 2011
Columbus, OH A bill that is sure to generate some controversy in the FOIA community, JobsOhio or House Bill 1, Ohio 2011 is before committee in the House of Representatives. Governor John Kasich proposed the legislation earlier this month as an initiative to bring Jobs to Ohio. JobsOhio would be created as a private agency exempted for the most part from public records and open meetings laws. More information about Ohio's laws on private agencies receiving public funding can be found at our Private Agencies, Public Dollars page. Governor Kasich believes that working outside the public framework is necessary for economic development to happen.
Taxpayer's Right to Know Act aims to combat JobsOhio Mar 05, 2011
Columbus, OH Further developments on the privatization of the Department of Development in Ohio. House Democrats led by Representative Matt Lundy have drafted a new piece of legislation that amends the Ohio Open Records Law and Ohio Open Meetings Law to include JobsOhio by making the meetings and records of any "governing board of a corporation" that enters into a public-private partnership subject to open meetings and records requirements. A "public-private partnership" is defined as a contractual relationship between a state agency and a corporation with the intent of the corporation exercising some or all of the agencies powers, functions or duties. Both chambers of the Ohio legislature are Republican majority, so without support from across the isle this bill is not likely to pass.
Jackson, MS An interesting bill was passed last week in Mississippi. Senate Bill 2289, Mississippi 2011 and House Bill 314, Mississippi 2011 combine to create civil penalty for violators of the Mississippi Public Records Act. The law targets individual members of a public body who refuse access to public records or violate public records laws in some way. Initial fine levels would be made $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. Any person who denies access to a public record would be liable for a civil sum up to $100 per violation. Previous law levied a fine against the public body as a whole, which meant tax payer dollars were used from one arm of the government to another. Many states allow committees and other public bodies a legal fee to hire a lawyer to defend their actions, however as the penalty is levied against an individual this would not be allowed. 
SCOTUS rules that corporate information does fall within the FOIA exemption for personal privacy Mar 02, 2011
Washington D.C. On March 1 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its long awaited ruling in the case of FCC v. AT&T. Overturning the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court ruled in favor of the FCC determining that, as a corporation, AT&T had no right to claim a "personal privacy exemption" to protect documents sought under the Federal Freedom of Information Act. The Court rejected AT&T's argument that because had defined "person" so as to include corporations, it had in turn defined "personal" to include corporations as well. The court found that first and foremost, "in ordinary usage, a noun and its adjective form may have meanings as disparate as any two unrelated words." In addition, the court established that the term "personal" is often used to only refer to the individual and never used to refer to a corporation and is in fact more often used to refer to strictly non-business information. Firmly rejecting AT&T's argument, Chief Justice John G. Roberts felt the need to insert some judicial humor, stating at the end of the opinion, "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally."
Santa Fe, NM The New Mexico Supreme Court has altered their rules for requesting records from the court system and will begin requiring an I.D. from requesters prior to release. The rule was adopted in February 2 and went into effect the week of February 14. The rule is a companion rule to a decision made by the court last year to begin requiring attorneys to submit two copies of court paperwork, one with identifying information for court use and one with that information redacted, for release to the public. The court argues that due to non-compliance with the previous rule, the I.D. requirement and a log of information relating to individuals requesting documents is necessary in order to protect the privacy interests of those associated with the courts. The New Mexico Foundation for Open government opposes the new rule, stating, ""It could be a violation of the Constitution if they deny records to people because they don't have I.D. There is a potential for abuse."
Tucson, AZ On October 29, 2009, the Arizona Supreme Court delivered a landmark FOIA decision in Lake v. City of Phoenix, determining that electronic "metadata", like creation dates and time stamps of electronic files, are subject to the same records laws as the documents themselves. The decision came about as a result of a public records request made by a police officer for filed performance reports.
Cheyenne, WY Two bills intended to strengthen the Wyoming Public Meeting Law and Wyoming Sunshine Law passed the first reading in the House this week. The public records section of the bill would require existing documents to be provided within seven working days. If a request for new data or a large sampling would take longer than seven days an answer on how much longer such an undertaking would require must be submitted within a week to the requester. The open meetings section of the bill would reduce the required notification period for an emergency meeting from 24 to 12 hours. In addition lawmakers would no longer be required to record audio of executive sessions, and they may instead opt to keep traditional minutes which would still only be released with a judge's order. 
Gainesville, FL This past week a Florida's 8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Victor Hulslander issued a ruling ordering that the University of Florida open up student senate meetings to the public. The case originated when a UF alumni, Frank Bracco, filed suit, alleging that the University was in violation of the Florida Sunshine Law for failing to make the records of meetings of the student senate available to the public. The University argued that the records and meetings were exempt under FERPA. The court rejected this argument, siding with Bracco. The University has not announced if it is going to appeal the decision.
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Yakima, WA' On Thursday, January 13, 2011 the Washington Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Yakima County v. Yakima Herald-Republic, establishing that court records held by governmental agencies do not fall under the same exemption as records held by Washington state courts. The case centered around over 2 million dollars in funds allocated for attorneys fees for the public defender of a murder trial in 2005. The Herald-Republic argued that the public had a right to the information, while Yakima County maintained that the documents were exempt as court records. The court sided with the Herald-Republic in its 9-0 decision.
IA The Iowa Association of School Boards is considering seeking a judges ruling to exempt documents held and created by the publicly funded non-profit prior to the July 1 passage of legislation which brought the board under the public records law. The board has been involved in a number of investigations, ranging from the FBI, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee. It seeks to exempt not only emails and information created prior to the new law but all new records pertaining to events and decisions made prior to the laws passage. While the attorney general has refused to issue an opinion, the Board hopes to take the matter to court as well as lobbying for a direct legislative exemption for the pre-law records. To read more about Iowa's policy towards publicly funded private entities, and other private groups which may fall under the public records law, please see, Private agency, public dollars-Iowa.
PA In a January 6 opinion issued by a Pennsylvania appellate court panel, the court established that emails and documents stored by a township commissioner on his or her personal computer were not considered public records. The court felt that the commissioner alone could not act on behalf of the township and thus the records on his personal computer could not be considered public records. Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has voiced concern over the ruling due to its capacity to create a loophole for officers to avoid the law. It is unknown if the decision will be appealed.
Helena, MT In a bill currently before the Montana House of Representatives which would modify the current Montana Public Records Act and Montana Open Meetings Law. The proposed edits mainly concern recorded meeting minutes, specifically if an official recording of a meeting is made the recording constitutes as the official record of that meeting. It must be accompanied by a written record of the date, time, place, names of the public body and who was in attendance, records of votes, substance of what was discussed and a log or time stamp for each agenda item. 
Washington, VT On Friday, January 7, 2011, a Vermont superior court judge issued a ruling establishing that the state is not permitted to charge for records if the record requester only wishes to inspect the records. The ruling came about due to a lawsuit filed by the Vermont State Employees Association against the state Department of Human Resources over the recent purchase of software designed to monitor and limit employees access to the internet. It is unclear if the state will appeal the decision.
HOUSTON, Texas: The cost of obtaining public information could go up in Texas if some officials and bureaucrats have their way in the 82nd legislative session which starts on Tuesday. The Houston Independent School District (HISD) along is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow governments to charge citizens for public records requests before they actually deliver the requested documents. "The Houston district also wants the ability to ignore requests from anyone who still owes money from a previous records request," reports Texas Watchdog. A spokesperson for HISD stated they have experienced an increase in public information requests and that the "district should be adequately compensated to reflect the time and resources we spend on complying with these requests."
Transparency advocates aren't buying it. Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, says that "there are fair and reasonable cost allowances already on the books." Current Texas public information laws require government offices to provide requestors with an itemized statement of charges for any costs over $40. The law also allows for government offices to charge for materials such as CDs and DVDs, as well as for the labor incurred while gathering the requested materials.
It is unclear from the wording of HISD's legislative agenda exactly what they want to change or how much they seek to increase their fees. The agenda states:
“Allow districts to charge the actual costs for the production of all materials, including the recovery of actual costs of personnel time, to comply with open records requests. Districts should be able to require actual payment of costs prior to compliance and failure to pay after committing to pay relieves districts of any obligation to comply with additional open records requests made by that entity until past balances are paid.”
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas's director Keith Elkin notes that government bodies have sought to change public information law in a similar fashion in the past. “The bill is worded slightly differently each time, but the bottom line is the same: They want to make a profit from the sale of electronic copies of their records to the public.” 
Whether or not government bodies can hike their prices for complying with the Texas Public Information Act will be for legislators to decide in the coming session. Until then Texans can continue accessing their government at the old price.
"City officials are asking a judge to review a public records request made by an attorney representing the family of a woman killed by an Amtrak train in 2008.
City Council members, with no discussion, unanimously approved city attorneys seeking the judicial review after a closed-door executive session last week.
Attorney Steve Chance filed the request on behalf of the family of 49-year-old Maia Haykin, who was struck by a train while crossing the train tracks at Boulevard Park on her bicycle May 20, 2008."
- ↑ The Republic, "State Supreme Court says election ballots can be made public after 90 days if not destroyed" 4/30/2011
- ↑ The Republic, "Arkansas Supreme Court says police use-of-force reports not exempt from public records law" 2/16/2012
- ↑ R.C.F.P. "N.H. high court limits access to police surveillance records" 11/3/2011
- ↑ The Republic, "Va. Supreme Court reaffirms that State Corporation Commission isn't subject to FOIA" 11/4/2011
- ↑ Virginia Statute 2.2-3701
- ↑ Texas Tribune, Email Destruction Halted in Texas Governor's Office, Sept. 14, 2011
- ↑ Rick Perry E-mails, Messing with Texas - Take 2, Sept. 1, 2011
- ↑ Washburn Research, Perry Response, Nov. 20, 2007
- ↑ Washburn Research, Perry E-mail Requests, September 2011
- ↑ Linux News, One Man's Fight to Open Government Data, August 16, 2008
- ↑ Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
- ↑ 
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 FCC v. AT&T ruling
- ↑ Taos News, "NM Supreme Court: Public records viewers need I.D." 2/17/2011
- ↑ Wyoming Tribute Eagle, "Public records bills pass first test in House", 1/28/2011
- ↑ The Gainsville Sun, "Make Student Senate meetings public" 1/14/2011
- ↑ Bloomberg, "Yakima newspaper wins Supreme Court records case" 1/14/2010
- ↑ Des Moines Register, "Embattled school boards group may ask judge to rule on disclosing e-mails", 1/19/2011
- ↑ The Morning Call, "Appeals court denies access to officials' e-mail", 1/17/2011
- ↑ House Bill 120 1/18/2011
- ↑ Brattleboro Reformer, "Vt. judge says union entitled to records for free", 1/11/2011
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Texas Watchdog, "Houston ISD, others to push legislature for upfront payments for public records", January 10, 2011
- ↑ Texas Administrative Code, "Cost of Copies of Public Information"
- ↑ Houston Independent School District, Legislative Agenda for the 82nd Legislative Session of the Texas Legislature
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