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Judicial Nominating Commission Now Subject to Open Records Law

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill making the state's nominating commission for Supreme Court justices subject to open records and open meetings laws, the Wichita Eagle's Bryan Lowry reports.

The bill also requires the governor to disclose the names of applicants for the intermediate appellate court, the Kansas Court of Appeals, and will require the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court to submit a list of lawyers eligible to vote to the Secretary of State before elections.

Cuomo's Proposed FOIL Changes Criticized

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed several changes to that state's Freedom of Information Law in the state budget. Open access advocates are criticizing the changes, saying that one would make it "harder for litigants to win court awards of attorney's fees in cases where agencies disregard valid FOIL requests or had no valid reason for delaying compliance with the law" and the other would reject FOIL requests regarding "critical infrastructures", The New York Law Journal's Joel Stashenko reports.

Cuomo also has proposed extended FOIL to the New York Legislature.

Obama Would Sign FOIA Reform Legislation

President Barack Obama would sign a Freedom of Information Act reform bill that has passed the U.S. Senate, Politico's Josh Gerstein reports. The bill "calls for a centralized portal to request records from all government agencies and writes into the law a presumption of openness that the Obama Administration adopted by executive order when he took office in 2009," Gerstein reports. Freedom of information advocates have been criticizing the Obama administration for having broken that promise of openness.

A similar bill has passed the House of Representatives and needs to be reconciled with the Senate FOIA bill.

PA Right-to-Know Law Permits Photographing of Public Records

Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law allows public records to be photographed, rather than requiring that photocopies be paid for, The Allentown Morning Call's Paul Muschick reports. Appeals officer Kathleen Higgins said that banning photography of public documents would be like banning someone from taking notes about public documents.

Legislation Would Open Up Delaware State Schools

Legislation has been introduced in Delaware to open up that state's two public universities to public-records requests, The News Journal's Jon Offredo reports. A similar effort was made last year, but the bill was narrowed to only require the universities to supply documents related to contracts funded with taxpayer dollars. Delaware and Pennsylvania are the only states that exempt public universities from open records laws.

The prognosis for the legislation may not be strong. Sponsor Rep. John Kowalko, however, was removed from the House Education Committee and stripped from his chairmanship of the House Energy Committee after criticizing the governor's education policies, Offredo reports.

ACLU Sues For Records Over TSA's Behavioral Detection Program

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the airport-security practice known as behavioral detection in which officers send "suspicious passengers" for additional screening, the Washington Post's Josh Hicks reports. The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit because the Transporation Secuirty Administration hasn't turned over any records about the practice, which advocates suspect leads to racial profiling.

PA Court: Public Employees Must Be Notified Before Addresses Released

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that government employees must be notified before their home addresses are publicly released, Newsworks' Bobby Allyn reports. The court majority said the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know law doesn't take into account how turning over a home address could cause personal harm. In a two-member dissent, Judge Dan Pellegrini said the majority was "'succumbing to unfounded fears and a parade of speculative horribles.'"

Why Sunlight Isn't the Best Disinfectant

Jesse Eisinger, writing in a column for ProPublica and the New York Times, argues that sunshine is not actually the best mechanism to ensure government accountability. Even though disclosure and transparency has become the answer to every problem in modern society, requiring "corporations and government to release reams of information on food, medicine, household products, consumer financial tools, campaign finance and crime statistics,"  dicslosure doesn't work when transactions become complex, he writes. The answer? "Hard and fast rules. If lawmakers want to end a bad practice, ban it. Having them admit it is not enough."

Open Records Law Thwarted By ID Checks

The Rhode Island State Police has been asking people visiting its barracks to submit photo IDs, even though the state's open-records law says that people can request public records anonymously, the Providence Journal's Amanda Milkovits reports. The policy for checking visitor IDs is meant to protect police officers in light of law enforcement killings in Paris, New York City and outside a Pennsylvania State Police barracks. However, Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said "'requiring public record requestors to identify themselves violates the law. State agencies should not be able to unilaterally decide which parts of the law they are going to follow.'"

Court Rules Freedom of Information Laws Don't Apply to Animal Humane Society

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Fri, 11/21/2014 - 21:35

A humane society is not a government agency subject to freedom of access laws, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.

Gina Turcotte sought to get access to records regarding her cat from the Humane Society Waterville Area under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, arguing that the society is the functional equivalent of a public agency and provides animal-shelter services to the city.

In a ruling earlier this month, Justice Warren M. Silver said the society does not perform a governmental function, is not governmentally funded, is not under significant governmental involvement nor was created by statute.

In other jurisdictions, humane societies have been determined to undertaken governmental functions “primarily where the societies and their employees are authorized by statute to take actions such as enforcing animal welfare laws and confiscating abused or neglected animals,” according to the opinion. However, in Maine, Waterville has to have a shelter for stray animals, but the shelter operators don’t have the authority to enforce animal welfare laws, Silver said.

“That an entity provides services under a contract with a public agency is insufficient, on its own, to establish that it performs a governmental function,” Silver said.

The society also obtains the majority of its funding from private donations, Silver said.


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