Connecticut Going the Other Way on Gun Records?

Now THIS is interesting…

The names and addresses of about 170,000 handgun permit holders in Connecticut, now kept confidential by law, could be made public under a proposed bill that pits gun owners against would-be reformers in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, would make public the names and addresses of permit holders under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act — and would reverse lawmakers’ decision to protect that personal information from disclosure nearly two decades ago…

Getting School Superintendent Contracts…And Doing An FOI Audit While You’re At It

What a great FOI twofer! The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Torrington Register Citizen are working on gathering all school chief contracts for Connecticut in order to build a searchable database. They also decided to test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law…

From the lede story:

Amity was one of only two school districts in the state to charge a fee for a copy of the superintendent’s contract and require that the documents be picked up in person, a recent Freedom of Information test done by three daily newspapers shows.

About half of Connecticut’s 149 public school districts responded within 24 hours to the FOI request seeking copies of school superintendent contracts, including Branford, Cheshire, Hamden, Milford, Orange, North Haven and New Haven.

The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen are gathering all school chief contracts for the state in order to build a searchable database. The publications decided to also test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law with the project.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act requires a response within four days, but this can be just a confirmation of receiving the request and an estimated time frame for when the documents will be provided. If no response is given by the fourth business day, it is automatically considered a denial and the requester may file a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

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Public Records As Trade Secrets?

Wow, this is horrible precedent: publicly generated records as trade secrets.

Public universities can withhold records, including lists of season ticket holders, as trade secrets, the Connecticut Supreme Courtruled Tuesday.

Former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto submitted a freedom of information request for database information from the University of Connecticut in 2008. The request included the athletic department’s season ticket purchasers, the performing arts database of subscribers and ticket buyers, the Center for Continuing Studies’ database of people interested in programs offered and the library’s database of donors.

A lower court declared three of the four databases trade secrets under the statute as “customer lists.” The library’s database of donors was not considered a customer list, but the court remanded it back to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission to determine if the list may still be protected under the trade secret exemption.

In University of Connecticut v. Freedom of Information Commission, the state’s highest court upheld that decision, declaring for the first time that records created by public agencies can qualify as trade secrets.

Connecticut’s High Court to Hear FOI Case Involving UConn Ticket Holder Info

Connecticut’s highest court will soon consider whether the University of Connecticut must release its season ticket holders’ names and some other lists under open records laws.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled an Oct. 21 hearing on the case, which stems from a Freedom of Information Commission decision in 2009.

That agency ordered UConn to provide the records to alumnus and former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto. He’d requested them to reach more people for a new advocacy and watchdog group.

Connecticut’s Governor Has A Bad Idea…

The Hartford Courant could have slugged this editorial simply as NOOOOOOO!

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to fold the FOI Commission into a new super-watchdog agency. Consolidations do save money, and The Courant has endorsed the merger of the state’s economic development agencies. But the watchdogs should be kept separate — especially the FOI Commission, which defends citizens’ interest in seeing details on how government works.

The governor would merge the FOI Commission, the state Elections Enforcement Commission, the Office of State Ethics, the Judicial Review Council and the Contracting Standards Board into an Office of Governmental Accountability. None of these watchdog agencies should be exempt from cost-cutting. Perhaps they could share office space and copying machines. But their staffs should be independent.

Most of all, the Freedom of Information Commission should be on its own. It serves as a check on all of government, including the other watchdogs.

The merger could create conflicts of interest. What if, for example, the new head of this super-watchdog agency (who might be appointed by the governor) is the subject of an FOI request? What if the governor who appointed him or her is FOIed?

The FOI Commission is all about openness. The other watchdog agencies, however, must sometimes be sensitive to privacy matters. Judicial Review, for example, is respectful of judges’ confidential discussions on individual cases. This is a bad match with FOI.

That is a massive understatement. The state’s FOI Commission is a national model for independence and efficiency, and to consolidate within other watchdogs will create an endless conflict of interest.

It’s Hard to Argue in Favor of Autopsy reports, but Let Me Try…

Nice job by Patch to keep public attention on a bad bill in Connecticut:

Perhaps no bill better illustrates the conflicting interest of the public’s right to know and a person’s privacy than S.B. 1054.

The bill, now before the Judiciary Committee, proposes that parents of a murdered child could block disclosure of the autopsy report. It would allow parents to veto the Chief Medical Examiner’s decision to release such information, even without a court order.

WIldly emotionally popular, I imagine, and also fraught with disaster. Let’s hypothesize that the child was missing, then found dead later. No autopsy report released? Say the report triggered someone who had no earthly idea that they were a witness to step forward and say something to someone? Something, anythimng that would forward the investigation? Because if the parents go with their emotions here…and it would be awfully hard not to…I can guarantee no one will ever know a thing to prompt such follow-up.

Here’s State Rep. Livvy Floren a Republican serving Stamford and Greenwich in the 149th House District, playing masterfully to the political winds…

“I will fight to the death for transparency in government, but this goes beyond,” said Floren. “Who determined you guys [reporters] were god and get to put whatever you want out there? There is absolutely no reason an autopsy report needs to be disclosed. It adds nothing; it’s a totally medical and forensic thing.”

No sir, it is a medical thing that can be sloppily done, hastily done, poorly done, and which demands scruitny by the press AND the public. What’s more, the story continues…

The law now allows broad exemptions to public disclosure of medical examiner findings. Right now disclosure is only allowed to those with a legitimate interest in a case such as legal, or scientific researchers. And the medical examiner can go to court to prevent disclosure if believes compelling interest.

SO an already bad piece of policy is made worse, all in the interest of trading on the emotions of bereaved parents while no one stops for a second to consider whether FEWER people seeing an autopsy report is a good thing, in terms of public accountability.

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