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NFOIC reveals pilot project results looking at 2019 state transparency bills nationwide

The National Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to announce the publication of its latest research, “Legislating Open Government: The Prevalence of Transparency-Related Language in 2019 State Legislative Bills.” The report is a culmination of a months-long pilot project analyzing all bills introduced in 2019 sessions across the U.S. in conjunction with Quorum, a Washington D.C.-based software company.

More than three-fourths of NFOIC’s state coalition members say that tracking their legislative sessions for bills that impact their state’s open government laws is a critical need — and a challenging task. Since most state legislatures do not prominently identify introduced transparency-related bills, many coalitions must rely on labor-intensive methods to single out and track them. NFOIC sought a technology solution to automate and better identify and track these bills.

Of the 142,057 bills introduced in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in 2019, transparency-related search terms NFOIC tracked returned 19,311 “unique” or individual bills. That translates into about 13.6  percent of all 2019 bills. 

Transparency issues arise in all kinds of bills — everything from how public data is collected, organized, managed and disseminated by government, to the balance between personal privacy and the public’s right to know, and how government interacts with the private sector.

Among the pilot project findings:

☑️ Research showed the primary issue areas most prevalent with transparency-related language included Commerce, Law Enforcement, Economics and Public Finance, Education, Government Operations and Health Care.

☑️ While state Democratic legislators sponsored more transparency-related legislation in 2019, state Republican legislators were overall more effective at enacting transparency-related legislation.

☑️ Finding accurate bill language is both an art and a science. In this pilot, we learned broad search terms often bring in too many results and further refinement of search terms is needed. Weeding out extraneous bills is necessary, and the lack of standardization of transparency search terms from state to state creates an additional challenge.

“While legislative tracking is just one component of ensuring an open and accessible government, NFOIC believes this research shows there is an opportunity for comprehensive FOI legislative tracking nationwide that can in turn be used to educate and empower more people at the state and local levels,” said Daniel Bevarly, NFOIC’s executive director.

The pilot project is an extension of NFOIC’s 2020 Vision strategy for improving government transparency at the state and local levels at a time when access to public records and institutions is becoming more challenging for the public.

If you know academics, journalists, government agencies or stakeholder groups who may be interested in online public records portal administration, please share this research with them. We’re here to assist in the effort for improved records administration in cities and states across the U.S and look forward to hearing your feedback: 📭 dbevarly@nfoic.org.

 

Open government highlights from
across the U.S. 

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government prevails in lawsuit

In December, the New Mexico Supreme Court declined to review the strong Court of Appeals and District Court decisions in the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG), ABQ Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican v. Corizon Health case enforcing the state’s Sunshine Laws. 

The Supreme Court denied a petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Corizon Health seeking review of September’s New Mexico Court of Appeals decision. That decision upholds First Judicial District Court's verdict requiring Corizon to turn over requested public records and pay legal fees for violating the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The Court of Appeals decision strongly and comprehensively affirmed many important IPRA provisions.

The original lawsuit came about as Corizon refused to release to the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican and the NMFOG settlement agreements it made with prisoners who had sued Corizon over alleged malpractice and sexual abuse by a physician. Corizon formerly provided healthcare to inmates in New Mexico’s prisons under a four-year $37 million per year contract with the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC).

“This ruling makes it very clear that third-party government contractors performing a public function on behalf of state, county or local agencies must open their records to public inspection – no exceptions,” said Melanie Majors, FOG executive director.

 

New York appoints new director for Committee on Open Government to replace fired Robert Freeman

From The Journal News: Shoshanah Bewlay on Monday was appointed executive director to the state's Committee on Open Government, an agency within the Department of State tasked with overseeing and advising on matters pertaining to the state's Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. 

Bewlay's appointment ends a months-long nationwide search for a replacement after the office's former executive director, Robert Freeman, was abruptly fired in June after a Journal News/Lohud.com reporter filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Department of State.

A subsequent investigation into the matter by the state's Inspector General's office found Freeman acted in a "sexually inappropriate manner."  In the days after his firing, the USA TODAY Network New York documented accusation of sexual harassment from eight women by Freeman. (Read more)


 

Jury convicts former Atlanta press secretary for public records violations

From The Atlanta Journal Constitution: The December verdict brought relatively light punishment for former Kasim Reed aide Jenna Garland — fines of $1,500 total for the two misdemeanor counts and no probation or jail time, but the case sends a signal to government officials across Georgia that they can be held criminally liable for blocking access to the people’s records. (Read more)
Graphic: National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Conference of State Legislatures provides an interactive up-to-date map on its website to track the status of legislative sessions across the U.S.

Looking ahead to February:

🏛 Results from NFOIC's 2019 Biennial Open Government Survey
Summit registration coming soon. 
Click here to reserve hotel rooms at the discounted 
group rate of $145/night.
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National Freedom of Information Coalition

3208 Weimer Hall
PO Box 118400
University of Florida - College of Journalism and Communications
Gainesville, FL 32611

Office: 352-294-7082
General Email: nfoic@nfoic.org

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