Covid-19 leaves a lasting impact

on Public Record Requests

Eight months into the pandemic and states continue to grapple with the best way to manage public record requests related to Covid-19.

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Featured

Cities across the U.S. are defying FOIA laws, indefinitely delaying requests

Despite lacking legal authority to do so, localities and agencies around the United States are still pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for delaying responses to public records requests, sometimes indefinitely.

It has been more than seven months since President Trump announced a nationwide state of emergency. Many states have reopened their stores, schools, and other community staples and many state orders affecting freedom of information laws have expired or been altered.

But despite the “new normal,” many municipalities have not returned their records offices to regular operations, using limited staffing as an excuse for delaying requests and failing to acknowledge requests even when recent state guidance reminds them that they must.

Read More | Muckrock

Legislation

FOIA subcommittee debates language in Virginia investigative records transparency bill

A Virginia subcommittee is poring over language specifics for legislation that would make certain police records subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

House Bill 5090 would allow open access to criminal investigative files unless a judge rules the release of the files would jeopardize an ongoing investigation or cause other harm, such as privacy concerns about victims. Current state law allows police departments to hold onto these files and grants them significant discretion over what documents are released to the public.

The bill went before a subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council on Wednesday [Oct. 21], but it did not receive a vote after some members suggested changes to the language.

Read More | InsiderNova.com

Six months after request, North Carolina has not provided unemployment office records

In late April, WRAL News filed an public records request with the [North Carolina] unemployment office, seeking a trove of emails to and from Lockhart Taylor, who was then head of the Division of Employment Security.

The idea was to gauge what sort of heads-up Taylor got before Gov. Roy Cooper ordered businesses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and to read conversations top officials had as new unemployment claims spiked and overwhelmed the state’s system.

The Cooper administration has released a lot of data during the pandemic, but its record on public records requests is spotty. WRAL and a number of other media partners are engaged in a lawsuit against the administration, seeking the release of various records.

Read MoreWRAL News

Litigation

Iowa admits governor's aide told public health spokesperson to 'hold' response to COVID-19 testing public records request

State lawyers admitted in a court filing [in October] that a staffer for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds told a health department spokesperson to withhold information about the Test Iowa program requested under the state’s open records law.

The admission came in the state’s answer to a lawsuit filed by former Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Polly Carver-Kimm. She sued the state in September for wrongful discharge after she was ousted from her job in July. She alleges the was ousted in part because she tried to comply with Iowa’s open records law by providing information to reporters.

Carver-Kimm says in the lawsuit that Reynolds’ spokesperson, Pat Garrett, told her at least once not to provide records about Test Iowa patient evaluation questions that had already been approved for release by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Read More | Des Moines Register

Peer Resources

How to Make a Business Case for Public Records Management Software

Getting buy-in from all the necessary decision-makers can be daunting. How can you show all the benefits of an automated platform?

We put together a letter template that makes it easy for you to provide a formal request to your supervisor, along with a checklist of features that will help make your job simpler, more efficient, and more secure.

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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