Public Record Roundup: Violations and Exemptions

Violations and Exemptions; States revisit ‘who’ and ‘what’ is covered under current public record laws.

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Featured

Michigan State Police confirm use of text messaging app signal; deny FOIA violations

A representative of the Michigan State Police confirmed for the first time Thursday [Feb. 4] that many of its top officials have used the text messaging app Signal on their state-issued cell phones, but he denied that use of the “end-to-end” encryption app in itself would violate the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Text messages sent using Signal bypass the state server and, once deleted, leave no record.

First Lt. Matt Williams told a Senate subcommittee that use of the app is neither officially banned nor officially sanctioned and the department is now reviewing whether its continued use is appropriate.

Williams said all members of the MSP are required to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and MSP policies regarding the retention of public records. That means all communications that would be deemed public records must be retained for specified periods of time, regardless of whether they are sent by Signal or some other means, and regardless of whether they are sent on state devices or personal devices, he said.

Read More | Detroit Free Press

Join GovQA’s PiPRIndex Webinar on Feb. 16 to learn about the 7 figures that compose the PiPRIndex, and to Quantify Complexity in Public Records.

Legislation

Insurance is covering some New Mexico public records violations

Local and state government agencies [in New Mexico] paid more than $1.2 million in penalties and legal fees in 2019 for failing to follow the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, according to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

But some of those legal fees and some of the penalties didn’t come out of the local government or state agency budgets. Instead, they were covered by insurance — something that has open government advocates concerned.

“By covering the costs for withholding documents, insurance gives those entities no incentive to comply with the law,” Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem said in an interview. “They are withholding too many records because they figure the cost is free.”

Read MoreLas Cruces Sun News

Virginia House committee advances bill giving FOIA exemption to Governor Northam's new cabinet officials

Two recently created cabinet-level positions in Gov. Ralph Northam’s office would gain a broad exemption from Virginia’s public-records laws under a bill advanced Tuesday by a House of Delegates committee.

The legislation would extend the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s working papers and correspondence exemption, often criticized by open-government advocates as creating a vaguely defined shield of secrecy around the actions of top officials, to the positions of chief workforce development adviser and director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Read More | Virginia Mercury

Wyoming bill would open up personnel files of top state brass

A new bill would make much of the personnel files of high-ranking, and highly paid, state employees public record.

The bill would make personnel files of people in such high-impact positions — including performance assessments and job application materials — public record.

The Wyoming Public Records Act today includes a number of exemptions government entities can use to avoid disclosing information and documents. One of those exemptions is for personnel information, which is often invoked when public officials resign or lose their posts suddenly and for reasons unknown to the public.

Read More | Casper Star Tribune

Litigation

New York Governor Cuomo health dept. ordered to turn over nursing home death records

A [New York] state Supreme Court judge in Albany has ordered Governor Cuomo’s Department of Health to surrender details of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 to a government watchdog group.

Bill Hammond, a Senior Fellow for Health Policy at the Empire Center, filed a FOIL request last August 3, seeking the total number of COVID-related nursing home deaths in the state, how many deaths on a given date, and how many deaths in each nursing home.

Even though the state Health Department collects that information for its own purposes, it repeatedly told Hammond it needed additional time to answer his request.

The judge didn’t buy it.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor, in a decision Wednesday, [Feb. 3], wrote the Department of Health “has had ample time to respond to Empire Center’s FOIL request.

Read More | 7 News

Peer Resource

A Conversational Webinar: Quantifying Complexity In Public Records

Introducing the ONLY Index that tracks the growing complexity trend in public records for state and local governments; the Peers in Public Records Index (PiPRIndex).

Join Jen Snyder on Feb. 16 at 1PM Central as she moderates a discussion around the first-of-its-kind Peers in Public Records Index (PiPRIndex): a historical marker that quantifies predictable growth (or retraction) in complexity for public sector organizations managing Public Records Requests.

Our panel will discuss each of the 7 figures that formulate the PiPRIndex, and how these figures represent a broader trend felt by most state and local governments.

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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