The chaos of 2020 leaves

transparency advocates concerned

States continue to struggle with transparency measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Featured

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf appeals public information request

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration appealed an order from the state’s public records office to produce data supporting its decision in July to keep Lebanon County under pandemic lockdown.

The state’s Office of Open Records (OOR) compelled the administration [In October] to comply with a request from state Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, to share the data it used to justify extended economic restrictions imposed on the county over the summer.

Wolf opposed the legislation because he said it could force state employees to access public records in unsafe conditions and that it violated privacy concerns under the Disease Prevention and Control Law – a claim the OOR later rejected.

Read More | Free Press-Courier

Legislation

Public records access and dispute resolution in Maryland have been delayed during coronavirus pandemic, ombudsman says

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is taking longer for people to get information through public records requests, and disputes over records are taking longer to resolve, according to Lisa Kershner, Maryland’s public access ombudsman.

Just 24% of cases involving disputes between agencies and requesters over public records were resolved within three weeks during the first six months of 2020, down from 44% in 2019, according to a report from the ombudsman, which was discussed at an [October] meeting of the Maryland House of Delegates’ Government Operations and Facilities Subcommittee. Just 37% of cases are being resolved within six weeks this year, compared with 73% in 2019, according to the report.

Read MoreThe Baltimore Sun

Government transparency coalition report says Colorado open records law is 'unbalanced'

A new report published by a government transparency coalition in Colorado describes the state’s open records law as “unbalanced,” saying it negatively impacts those who work for the public good by allowing custodians to impose exorbitant fees to produce public records.

University of Denver law student Justin Twardowski, who compiled the report for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC), found that while the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) doesn’t specify fees for records requests, courts have allowed custodians to charge “nominal” fees for research and retrieval, a right Twardowski argues state agencies abuse continuously, resulting in exorbitant fees being charged for simple and narrowly-tailored requests.

Read MoreThe Center Square

Litigation

Columbus County, NC Sheriff’s Office faces lawsuit over public records

The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office is facing a lawsuit over its new policy to withhold criminal incident reports from the media, a violation of the state’s public records law.

The complaint asks for an immediate hearing and an order declaring that the requested records and information are public records as defined by the Public Records Law. It also asks for an order requiring the sheriff to revise his policies and procedures to fully comply with the Public Records Law’s demand that access be given as promptly as possible.

Read More | WWAY TV

Peer Resources

Please Participate In Our 2021 Peers In Public Records Survey

In Fall 2019, GovQA conducted a survey to gather the opinions of state and local agencies on their public records priorities for the upcoming year — 2020.

We can look back and see that nearly all of the priorities we asked about last year are still relevant – some much more so today than anyone could have guessed. But using 2020 Hindsight, we have added a few new topics to the mix for the 2021 survey.

Read More | GovQA

The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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