Public Record Legislation is On the Move
Legislative sessions bring access (or lack thereof) to public records to the forefront. As some states move to expand access to public records, others tighten their grip on what records are available to the public and when.
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Elections, Planned Parenthood, city payroll were popular records request targets in 2021
A Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request allows people to request and obtain public records from government entities. Requests can include blueprints, police reports, email exchanges between public officials and more.
Sunshine Week, observed this year March 13-19, highlights the importance of government transparency and protecting laws like FOIA. Hometown Life requested the 2021 FOIA logs of the following cities in Michigan: Livonia, Westland, Wayne, Farmington Hills and Farmington to see what people wanted to know in 2021.
Here are some of the requests and trends that stood out:
The pay stubs for public officials like council members, clerks, mayors, city managers, department heads and police chiefs are typically annual requests for organizations like Open the Books and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
All five communities received election-related FOIAs from True North Law in 2021, along with multiple requests from individuals. The Missouri-based True North sued Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in 2020 on behalf of former U.S President Donald Trump alleging a lack of Republican poll watchers in Detroit. A judge dismissed the lawsuit.
Read More | Hometown Life
Managing Requests for Public Records is Getting Harder and Now There's Proof: PiPRIndex
As the Gov Tech market leader in cloud-based automated workflow (SaaS) software for governments, GovQA is singularly positioned to provide this actionable barometer for the public records industry.
Anonymized data from GovQA’s broad and diverse customer base, brings to light important trends affecting state, county and city governments on a quarterly basis with the Peers in Public Records Index (PiPRIndex).
Oklahoma Lawmakers stifle debate on applying open records law to themselves
Lawmakers’ emails to lobbyists, calendars, call logs and other records that could give the public insight into the bills they craft will remain secret for at least another year.
A bill that would have ended Oklahoma’s status as one of a handful of states that allows the Legislature to exempt itself from open records and meeting laws quietly, and with little fanfare, failed to clear a key legislative deadline.
Hopes for House Bill 3525 faded when a GOP-led House committee did not give the proposal a hearing by the March 4 cutoff date.
The proposal from Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, would have ended a decades-old exemption that allows the Legislature to ignore the open records and meeting laws that city councils, county commissions, school boards and other governing bodies must follow.
In addition to opening the records to public scrutiny, the bill would have required legislative committees to publish meeting agendas, blocked lawmakers from voting on measures while in closed caucus sessions and opened a more formal way for the public to comment on bills.
Read More | KPVI News
Michigan will now accept credit cards for FOIA requests
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a new executive directive moving forward in her promises to address government transparency.
Effective immediately, departments for the State of Michigan are required to update their systems to accept credit card payments for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
“This executive directive furthers transparency and openness in state government, making it easier for any Michigander to access department records,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a press release. “Effective immediately, all State of Michigan departments are required to begin modifying their systems to accept credit card payments for any fees associated with the production of records under FOIA. We will continue getting things done and ensure we make improvements whenever possible.”
Read More | Detroit Metro Times
Idaho bill to hide execution drug suppliers from public records clears Legislature
A bill designed to conceal the identity of all execution drug suppliers to maintain Idaho’s death penalty by lethal injection is only a governor’s signature away from becoming law. House Bill 658, co-authored by the Idaho attorney general’s office and Idaho Department of Correction, cleared the state Senate on Friday [March 18] to win full approval in the Legislature. After nearly an hour of debate, the Senate backed the proposed law in a 21-14 vote. The House passed the bill by a narrow margin [in February].
State prison officials have said that suppliers won’t sell them lethal injection drugs out of concerns that they will be identified and face public scorn for involving themselves in the polarizing national issue of capital punishment. Proponents of the bill have said allowing the names of drug sources and medical participants to be released will lead to protests of the homes and businesses of those who assist, to shame them out of helping Idaho carry out an execution.
Read More | Idaho Stateman
Loophole means Attorney General rarely enforces Missouri Sunshine Law on state agencies
When Missouri’s health department refused to turn over certain documents to ProPublica reporter Pamela Colloff in October 2020, she did what the attorney general’s office directs anyone to do if they believe a government agency is illegally withholding public records.
She filed a Sunshine Law complaint with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, whose office enforces the law designed to ensure government transparency.
Two-and-a-half months later, she received a three-sentence response dismissing her complaint because the attorney general’s office considered the Department of Health and Senior Services “a client.”
That means complainants who believe state government entities are breaking the Sunshine Law are left with few options, with the attorney general’s office instructing them to “contact a private attorney” if they wish to pursue the matter further.
Read More | Missouri Independent
Groups sue Montana Governor’s Office, state over public records delay
On Tuesday, [March 15] in Lewis and Clark County District Court, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Earthworks filed a complaint saying the Governor’s Office and the Department of Administration have taken too long to respond to a Nov. 29 request for public records.
Montana’s public records laws give citizens access to all state documents and communications involving public agencies, except sections that contain information related to citizens’ personal privacy. This helps people keep a closer watch on agency actions.
The problem is the law only requires that state agencies provide the requested information “in a timely manner.” “Timely” is not defined. Recently, several requests indicate that governor Gianforte administration’s definition appears to be several months instead of weeks as with the previous administration.
Read More | Missoula Current
3 tips in 15 minutes to help you identify, evaluate, & iterate systems for records management
Whether you have inherited a mess and are creating a system from the ground up; are currently re-evaluating your internal processes; or are a veteran yourself looking for community, this chat and the accompanying material is for you!
Cindi Mansell, veteran records manager, will provide an overview of her step-by-step instructions for information governance applicable to any state, county, or city agency – large or small. Topics will include navigating stakeholder buy-in, expectation setting, committee-building, IG situation analysis, records retention and disposition, and resources. Join us for this information-packed session and come away feeling seen!
Read More | GovQA – Now Part of Granicus
GovQA's Upcoming Events
GovQA’s hosts and moderates events to create and expand opportunities for state and local government agency members to discuss the challenges they face.
3 Tips in 15 Minutes to Help You Identify, Evaluate, & Iterate Systems for Records Management
Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association 2022 ETI & Law Enforcement Expo
Iowa Police Chiefs Association’s 35th Annual Conference
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 email@example.com.