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September 2021

Check out these new sessions ...

Data Deserts: How to Close Gaps in Minority, Rural, and Tribal Communities — Hosted by Daniel Delgado, of The Brechner Center and NFOIC, with journalists Sara Sneath, Sunnie Clahchischiligi and Jourdan Bennett-Begaye.

Secrecy at Universities: How Do They Slide Under the Radar, and What Can be Done? — Hosted by Sara Ganim, of the "Why Don't We Know?" podcast; with Andy Thomason, of the Chronicle of Higher Education; and Daniel Libit, of Sportico.

Strategies for Improving FOIA Responses, Without Litigation — Hosted by Grace Cheng, of Thomson Reuters; with James Holzer, of the Department of Homeland Security; Michael Morisy, of MuckRock; and Michael Ravnitzky, independent researcher.

Accessing Police Misconduct Records — Hosted by Freddy Martinez, of Open the Government; with Rajiv Sinclair, of Public Data Works; and Ayyub Ibrahim, of Innocence Project New Orleans.

How Can More Informed and Diverse Public Engagement with Government Foster Increased FOI Requests? — Hosted by Valerie Lemmie, of the Kettering Foundation; with Luke H. Britt, Indiana's public access counselor; Amanda Kastl, countywide FOIA officer of Fairfax County, Virginia; Martin G. Reynolds, of the Maynard Institute; and Tricia Thomas, of PublicInput.com.

Seeing FOI Through Millennial and Gen Z Eyes — With Nabiha Syed, of The Markup; Lam Vo, data journalist; Ava Lubell, journalism attorney; and Azmat Khan, investigative reporter.

Seeing FOI Through BIPOC Eyes — With Melissa Wasser and Lance Sims, of the Project on Government Oversight; Gunita Singh, of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Mia Woodard, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Saving the Freedom of Information Act: A Discussion with Author Margaret Kwoka — Kwoka, the Lawrence Herman Professor in Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, will be hosted by Mark Horvit, director of the State Government Reporting Program at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. 

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Winners of research competition to present findings

Five research papers have been accepted to the third annual National Freedom of Information Coalition FOI research competition, to be presented online Sept. 28, 2021, at the FOI Summit.

In all, seven one-page proposals were entered and five selected through double-blind peer review for final consideration. Then, a team of eight expert judges rated the full manuscripts based on importance, relevance to practitioners, and strength of methodology. Three of the papers earned cash prizes for excellence, of $500, $300 and $200. Top papers are guaranteed publication in the University of Florida’s Journal of Civic Information, which welcomes submissions from all researchers.

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From the Headlines

States with coalitions for open government are more transparent, new study finds

A study published in the August 2021 edition of The Journal of Civic Information found that states with coalitions for open government are more likely to have counties that are more transparent, resulting in faster and more complete responses, as well as greater communication, in the public records process.

Marquette University’s A.Jay Wagner based the analysis on 1,002 records requests to nine states.

“Among the study’s findings are two uniquely strong predictors of better FOI results: The existence of an independent FOI advocacy organization in the state and a legislature subject to the law,” according to Wagner’s abstract. “The findings suggest cultivating a culture of transparency may be as or more important than any of the generally considered legal variables, such as deadlines or penalties.”

In an editor’s note for The Journal of Civic Information, David Cuillier, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism and board president for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said the study shows that independent advocacy organizations improve the information ecosystem.

“The growing body of research indicates that nonprofit coalitions for open government make a difference, and they should be supported generously if we want to maintain this experiment we call democracy,” Cuillier wrote.

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Attorney general’s position in lawsuit is concerning, Iowa transparency advocate says

The executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council has raised concerns about court filings in which the attorney general’s office suggests the state’s freedom of information law is not standing policy, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Aug. 20, 2021.

“I am worried that the state’s legal arguments … will be viewed by government officials and government employees across Iowa as a roadmap for how to circumvent the clear duties and obligations imposed upon them by the Open Records Law,” Randy Evans said.

In its motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a terminated health department spokeswoman, the state attorney general’s office said the open records law “is not well-recognized public policy,” and that the law does not protect public employees who respond to information requests.

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Law enforcement would benefit everyone
by democratizing its data, column argues

Democratizing law enforcement data could benefit everyone — the police and the public they serve — argue Nancy La Vigne and Roy L. Austin Jr. of the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing in an Aug. 26, 2021, guest column for The Washington Post.

“We cannot fix a problem we do not fully understand,” they write. “And we do not fully understand the problem because the available data on policing is pathetically thin. This is inexcusable, and it is a serious obstacle to progress.”

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Signed, NFOIC

Note to Supreme Court, signed by dozens of groups: Make live audio streaming permanent, accessible

The National Freedom of Information Coalition and 75 other organizations signed a letter urging Chief Justice Roberts and the Supreme Court to permanently provide live audio access to oral arguments.

“Providing live audio access to cases during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has convincingly demonstrated the public’s appetite to observe the operations of the Court,” reads the letter, authored by the Project on Government Oversight. “It has also shown that the Court can balance increased public access with the integrity of its proceedings. Equitable access to the Court as an institution is imperative for all Americans.” 

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Letter urges N.Y. governor to publish COVID data

Ten open government groups, including the National Freedom of Information Coalition, signed a Sept. 7, 2021, letter urging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to publish COVID-19 data.

“Publishing COVID data in a tabular, downloadable, machine-readable format would help restore trust in state government and help researchers, journalists and the public to better understand the dire pandemic that has cost us loved ones and continues to upend everyday life,” reads the letter, authored by Reinvent Albany, an NFOIC member.

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Training Calendar
We're happy to promote your training programs and events. Please click the button below to let us know of programming scheduled this fall. 
Share Your Training Programs
NFOIC members identified at least 60 policy priorities, when asked by email for examples. Because most NFOIC member groups are 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, they are limited in terms of directly lobbying state legislatures.
But they advocate for policies and laws through activities that include providing media interviews and legislative testimony; training and speaking about FOI matters; and publishing FAQs, op-eds, newsletters, sample FOI letters, white papers and full texts of laws.
Click Here to Donate to NFOIC
NFOIC Newsletter Contacts
This newsletter is produced by Todd Fettig, NFOIC executive director, and Erika Benton, NFOIC external partnership coordinator and communications specialist. To contribute items or for more information, email nfoic@nfoic.orgtfettig@nfoic.org and ebenton@nfoic.org. To read regular FOI updates, visit our blog at nfoic.org and follow us on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

Copyright © 2021 National Freedom of Information Coalition, All rights reserved.


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