The Supremes Take a Rare State FOI Case…

Tony Mauro’s excellent synopsis

United State Supreme Court Building

United State Supreme Court Building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

does a nice job of underscoring the stakes here, in which the High Court takes up Virginia’s “residents-only” FOI clause:

The Supreme Court agreed on Oct. 5 to review a Virginia case that could put a stop to the increasing balkanization of state freedom-of-information laws.

At issue in McBurney v. Young is a provision of the Virginia FOI law that limits access to state documents under the law to Virginia residents — though it makes an exception for out-of-state news outlets that circulate or broadcast within the commonwealth. A growing number of other states, including Arkansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Georgia, have similar provisions or policies restricting access to state residents only.

News organizations and good-government groups have joined the case to make a strong argument that the law impedes reporting and public accountability. But they, the plaintiffs and other participants in the case have also framed the law as an infringement on the national “information industry” — potentially a winning argument before a pro-business Court.

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Brechner Award Goes to Asbury Park Press

Weimer Hall, home of University of Florida Col...

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The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information is where I cut my FOI teeth nearly 20 years ago. It’s a great center well worth following!

The Asbury Park Press has been named the winner of the 2010 Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award for exposing questionable use of taxpayer dollars in New Jersey and how that state’s property tax system harms the economy. In addition, the Asbury Park Press raised awareness of a gap in the public records law that allows cities to delegate duties to private vendors, who in turn charge high fees for public information.

“The Asbury Park Press’ series demonstrates the indispensible role investigative reporting and open government laws play in exposing potential misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Sandra F. Chance, executive director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said.

The series will be recognized with a $3,000 prize, which will be presented to Asbury Park Press Regional Editor Paul D’Ambrosio at an awards ceremony at 8:30 a.m. March 25 at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. During his visit to UF, D’Ambrosio will also be a guest speaker in classes at the college. The Asbury Park Press was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its “Tax Crush” series.

The Asbury Park Press’ parent company, Gannett, sued a municipality in New Jersey based on the series results, questioning whether a private vendor’s ability to set its own fees for data obtained while performing a public function stifled the public records law.

“What the eight-day series reflects about the Swiss-cheese loopholes in basic public recordkeeping in New Jersey was more than embarrassing and infuriating,” one of the judges for this year’s Brechner FOI Award said. “The resulting litigation may even bring about some much-needed reform. Terrific journalism.”

 

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