Illinois Punishes Those Who Make a Lot of FOI Requests. Funny, I Always Thought This Was Called Self-Governance.

This strikes me as an odd time for truly horrific FOI legislation to hit the books, but…

Changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act allow government agencies to delay response times to individuals who are deemed to have made too many requests.

The “recurrent requester” provision of the law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Friday allows government agencies to delay responses up to 21 days for individuals who make more than seven requests in a week, 15 requests in a month or 50 requests in a year. The state’s FOIA law requires government agencies to fulfill information requests within five days, though taxing bodies can demand a five-day extension if they deem the request to be too time-consuming.

In today’s theme, this, again, was a bill many, many state legislatures have considered, and then, after a brief period of sobriety, realized that this is the legislative equivalent of attacking a molehill with a nuclear weapon.


Vermont Passes FOI Reforms

Front view of the Vermont State House (taken S...

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Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Wednesday a public records bill championed by open records advocates who say the changes are long overdue for a state that has consistently received poor transparency rankings.

The legislation, H.B. 73, awards attorneys fees and costs to those who fight public records denials in court and win, and creates a committee to review the number of exemptions to the state’s public records statutes.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor.

“This bill represents an important step toward more open government,” Shumlin said. “We’ve seen too many times in practice that the public records law hasn’t always lived up to its promise. . . . By requiring courts to award attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiffs in public records cases, this law deputizes every citizen to help hold public agencies — including the state of Vermont — accountable.”

More here….

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Illinois Moves to Slow Down Frequent Requesters

The State Journal-Register has the story:

People who frequently file Freedom of Information Act requests would have to wait longer for their requests to be fulfilled under a bill that passed the Illinois Senate on Monday.

House Bill 1716 allows public bodies to take up to 21 days to respond to FOIA requests by people who have filed more than 50 requests to the same public body, more than 15 requests in a month and more than seven requests in a week.

Once the initial response is sent out, public bodies can fulfill the request, based on its size and complexity, within a “reasonable” amount of time, unless the information is exempt from disclosure.

The bill would not apply to the news media or non-profit or scientific organizations.

The legislation is needed because some frequent requesters, who still may have good intentions, “bog down local governments and deprive taxpayers and other inquiries of due consideration,” said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation also removes a requirement that the attorney general’s public access counselor pre-approve a public bodies’ decision not to release information covered by certain exemptions in the law. It also allows fees to be charged to commercial requesters whose requests will take more than eight hours to fulfill.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan supports the bill, while the Illinois Press Association was neutral. The Better Government Association and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform testified against the bill.

University Systems in Delaware Might Be Dragged into the Sunshine…

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From Delaware Online comes some good legislative news:

The University of Delaware and Delaware State University would be forced to lift a cloak of secrecy surrounding their operations under a bill expected to be introduced in the General Assembly today.

Citing several recent gripes with each university, a contingent of lawmakers wants to redefine UD and DSU as “public bodies,” which would force them to comply with all provisions of the state’s Freedom ofInformation Act.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. John Kowalko, said the two schools need to operate with more transparency in light of controversies over construction on each campus as well as UD’s decision to disband its men’s track and cross-country teams.

“They can’t be private one day and public the next,” said Kowalko, D-Newark-South. “We give them entirely too much money that we cannot track.”

Then it gets really interesting:

Since 1990, the state’s FOIA requirements have included exclusions written specifically for UD and DSU. Under the current law, only meetings of the full board of trustees must be conducted in public. By that point, most votes taken are unanimous. The committees of each board, whose members discuss major decisions in more detail, meet in private. The schools are obligated to disclose only how they spend state-appropriated money and do not release records related to privately raised funds.

Wow….that is amazing! I’d LOVE to know how such exemptions came to be — and what the legislative climate was like that would almost wholly protect an entire university system from any meaningful scrutiny…


Kowalko said UD did not sufficiently disclose its decision-making process for ending the track team, while labor unions have complained it should provide a more thorough accounting of the building contracts it awards, many of which have gone to non-union or out-of-state firms.

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You go, Utah Public Records Working Group. You go!

Today’s update from Utah (thanks, Brooke!) is full of all kinds of news, not the least of which is training and an ombuds…

A lot of ideas are still in flux, but one has gained consensus: More education would help requesters, responders and government officials alike understand how Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act works.

Two different subcommittees of the GRAMA Working Group are recommending that lawmakers require record officers and other employees who handle requests to go through an annual certification program about the law’s provisions.

That training, said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, would ensure legislators “have information about how GRAMA, as it currently exists, works.”

Likewise, it might reassure records officers and others who routinely handle requests that they are making the right decisions, group members said.

There also needs to be a better way to educate the public about what records are available, what limitations there is on information and how to access records, said Mark Johnson, director of management services for Ogden and a working group member.

The GRAMA Working Group, appointed by legislative leadership, is reviewing ways to improve the state’s open records law following a public uproar over now-repealed HB 477.

Good News From Wyoming…

Efforts to improve Wyoming public records and open meetings laws have moved from conflict to cooperation, members of a legislative committee learned here Friday.

Officials from the Wyoming Press Association, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association sat side by side before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee and explained recent efforts to work together to produce agreed-upon changes in government access laws.

This is a change in approach for the three groups, which traditionally have been at loggerheads over alterations to the statutes. The most recent occurrence of that was this year’s legislative session, when WAM and WCCA spoke out against legislation that would have, their sponsors said, improved the laws for the subject.

Utah Legislature REPEALS HB 477

Utah State Capitol

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Think a few organized citizens can’t shake up the world?

After enduring two weeks of public fury, Utah lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to repeal a bill that would have restricted public access to government records.

While Senate President Michael Waddoups accused the media of lobbying on the issue and others blamed the press for biased coverage that turned citizens against them, Sen. Steve Urquhart said bluntly: “We messed up. It is nobody’s fault but ours.”

Urquhart added, “We can do much better, to where the citizens of this state will be proud of the Legislature.”

The votes to repeal HB477 were resounding: 60-3 in the House, and 19-5 in the Senate.

HB477 had passed earlier this month just 72 hours after its text was introduced. Lawmakers said they moved swiftly to avert expected opposition by the press, and said they were acting to stop “fishing expeditions” by reporters seeking to embarrass lawmakers.

But it launched a two-week firestorm that included chanting protesters marching in the Capitol, launching of a voter referendum seeking to repeal HB477, attacks by most major news media in the state, threats of lawsuits, and advertisements assailing it by such influential groups as the Alliance for Unity and Common Cause.

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New Mexico Legislature Tables Good FOI Bill…

The hits just keep coming, people…

Representative Joseph Cervantes’ bill to ensure fair and equal access to public databases was derailed Monday morning by opposition from the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee tabled HB 406 by a 9-5 vote, effectively killing the bill. Representatives Conrad James, Patricia Lundstrom, James Smith, Don Tripp and Jeannette Wallace voted to keep the bill alive.[1]

The Department opposed the bill because it would have interfered with an estimated $6.3 million in annual royalties from motor-vehicle data.

“It is disappointing to have a state agency selling access to public records as a way to generate profits for that agency, and profits for others brokering the sale,” Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) said.

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh, whose organization drafted the bill, echoed those sentiments.

“I am disappointed that an idea with broad bipartisan support is being held hostage to one agency’s profit-making scheme,” Welsh said. “My hope is that in the coming year, we can resolve that issue and move forward with bringing the open-data movement to New Mexico.”

HB 406 was co-sponsored by Representatives Thomas Taylor, Al Park, Bill O’Neill, Nate Gentry and Jim Trujillo. It sought to repeal broad and unconstitutional restrictions on all state databases. It would have provided that public databases would be available to any person requesting them, at actual cost and in any existing or readily convertible format. Databases subject to privacy protections, such as the state motor-vehicle database, would be provided to any qualified entity on fair and equal terms and at actual cost.

The cost provision triggered strong opposition from the Taxation and Revenue Department. Newly confirmed Department Secretary Demesia Padilla testified Monday that selling motor-vehicle records at a profit provides a vital source of funding for special projects within the Motor Vehicle Division.

Currently, MVD’s electronic database of driver records is sold exclusively to a Kansas company, which enjoys a monopoly on re-selling the data to other companies. The exclusive contract was awarded in 2009 under former governor Bill Richardson’s administration, despite heavy criticism that the procurement process was slanted in favor of the winning company.

While admitting that the request for proposals may have been ‘too restrictive,’ Padilla told the Committee that the contract generates roughly $6 million for MVD programs. If that revenue stream were eliminated, the money would have to be appropriated from the state’s general fund in 2012, Padilla said.

“It’s one thing to talk about ending the sale of access in Santa Fe, but it’s another thing to actually turn away the money,” Cervantes said.

Welsh said the underlying policy is flawed no matter how much money is generated or for what purpose.

“I don’t doubt that the government can make a lot of money by selling its records,” Welsh said. “But the public owns those records, and it shouldn’t have to pay for them twice. FOG objects when public agencies try to charge a dollar per page for paper copies, and we object when data is sold for a profit. And we particularly object to existing law that allows the government to approve or deny requests for data based on the commercial or political purpose of the requester. This bill would have fixed that.”

HB 406 was originally assigned to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee; it was approved unanimously in each committee. Welsh said despite this setback, FOG will continue to advocate both in and out of legislative sessions for fair and equal access to databases.