Sunshine Week Linkapalooza!

LOTS of Sunshine Week stuff today, as the festivities are leavened with a fresh batch of outrage over some terrible legislative proposals…

Back to Utah’s (or Utahkistan, as one wag called it today), here is a nice page that keeps track of everything related to HB477.

And SPJ handed out its first-ever Black Hole Award to….Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for plunging their state into an abyss of secrecy through the most regressive piece of freedom of information legislation in recent history.

In Maryland, someone FINALLY has begun paying attention to the dreadful HB37, currently in the Maryland State Senate and awaiting a final vote, which seeks to limit the ability to procure records in the public domain with expensive fees, redaction of vital metadata and access determined by third-party custodians acting in the interest of government.

Ohio’s auditor vows to ramp up scrutiny of compliance with that state’s access laws…

The Cleveland Plain Dealer certainly gave him something to work on, as its Sunshine Week audit shows the City Hall moves at a glacial pace at granting FOI requests:

Cleveland City Hall is notorious among Plain Dealer reporters and others in town for its slow response to records requests, so for Sunshine Week, we decided to use the records law to measure just how slow Cleveland is.

On Feb. 2, we asked City Hall for records that track public-records requests. We’re still trying to get all the information.

Illinois lawmakers are celebrating Sunshine Week by trying to limit the number of requests citizens can make, in the latest state attempt to punish “vexatious” users.

The Seattle Times runs a nice column on bringing the federal FOIA into the digital age…

And finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the effectiveness of FOIA today with some of the FOI movement’s best and brightest testifying.

Whew! That is a busy day in the land of Sunshine…

Seriously, People: HB37 in Maryland Needs Some Attention!

I talked a bit about Maryland HB37 yesterday. It began with the best of intentions, but dang, it’s become a bit of a mess. The bill’s current language confuses rather clarifies certain important issues, and rather than enhancing transparency, it may instead undermine the public’s right to know.

House Bill 37 is so deeply flawed that the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Society of Environmental Journalists oppose this bill in its current form.

HB 37 allows agencies far too much latitude on the question of whether to provide records in electronic formats and if so, in which formats.  It lacks the clear, compelling language provided in other states’ laws and under federal law.  Under those laws, if an agency possesses a public record in an electronic format, and a person or organizations asks for that record in that format, the agency generally must provide it in that format.

HB 37’s vague language allows agencies in too many cases to continue providing public records solely in degraded electronic formats or in paper copy.  This practice obstructs research, education, and informed public participation.  It also undermines the public’s ability to inform agencies and elected officials – including the General Assembly – with expert analysis on important issues.

Perhaps worst of all, HB 37 authorizes a state agency to out-source public databases to a private, for-profit contractor.

This out-sourcing practice not only obstructs public access, it perpetuates a system in which Maryland has two classes of records requestors: those who have deep pockets with which to buy public records, ample time to wrangle with agencies, or the legal resources to sue agencies into compliance; and those who do not.

And, in a novel and truly horrifying new twist… HB 37 allows a custodian to delete or redact information about the origin and history of a public record.  That information often exists in the form of metadata, which has been ruled to be a public record in several states in the past couple of years. HB 37 inappropriately allows an agency to scrub this information wholesale from a public record without informing the person or organization requesting the record.

If you’d like more information on HB37, feel free to reach out to Greg Smith at Community Research:

(240) 605-9238

We need some media attention on this folks. I’m hearing crickets in Maryland…

Testimony Opposing HB 37- Soc of Pro Journalists – 20110307

Testimony Opposing HB 37 – NFOIC – 20110309

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