Posts Tagged ‘Gov. Jerry Brown’


FOI Daily Dose: FOIA fines prompt change in Michigan; Washington city council tries private email trick; More public records controversy in California

Hefty FOIA fines prompt change in Michigan

Hefty fines for public records requests in Michigan rally support for the state’s House Bill 4001 aimed at limiting costs to 10 cents per page and eliminating the charge for on-sight inspection, according to the Oakland Press.

Residents and reporters are worried the state’s current fees for obtaining free information discourage the public from requesting records.

In Oakland Township, where the current cost is 25 cents per page plus labor, resident Marc Edwards racked up a nearly $2,500 bill for two FOIA requests with township officials. The bulk of the cost came from the 8,918 pages he requested in print, according to the Oakland Press.

House Bill 4001 was introduced Jan. 9 by Rep. Mike Shirkey. Along with lowering costs for the public, it raises fees from $500 to $5,000 for government agencies that delay or deny records requests. Government agencies would be allowed a 10-day extension, and after that, the cost of the request would drop 20 cents per day, the Press said.

Washington city council members discuss official business in private emails

Members of the Bainbridge Island City Council in Washington were caught discussing city business using private email accounts last week, and when the city asked them to turn over the emails pertaining to official business, some refused, according to the Bainbridge Island Review.

Discussing official business on private email accounts keeps information out of public reach and violates the city’s Manuel of City Governance adopted in 2010 that says council members “shall cease utilizing any private, public or proprietary email service other than the city’s, for the sending or receiving of any such emails that meet the definition of public records,” according to the Review.

More public records controversy in California

Although Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation loosening requirements for meeting open records requests on June 27, he remains committed to relieving the state of its financial burden for reimbursing local governments when they meet records requests, according to The Associated Press.

The same afternoon Brown signed the state budget, lawmakers proposed constitutional amendment SCA3 to save the state government millions of dollars a year by requiring local agencies to pay for fulfilling the records requests they receive. It’s currently pending before the Senate, and it needs two-thirds support from both houses to be placed on a statewide ballot next year, the AP said.

But while Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the amendment is aimed at strengthening open-government laws and holding local governments accountable, the Oakland Tribune’s editorial board is skeptical it might go too far.

The Tribune fears the amendment requires local governments to comply with the exemption-ridden Public Records Act and Brown Act open-meeting law, giving both acts “greater legal weight.”

They also said the amendment allows the legislature and governor to change the laws and, hence, the constitution at any time without voter approval.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: California reverses ruling on public records, New Mexico open government group fights for previously denied records

California to reverse ruling on public records

Pressure from reporters and open government advocates helped reverse legislation in California this week that threatened to make key parts of the state’s Public Records Act optional, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California legislature passed Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal on June 14 with an inconspicuous trailer bill to help the state save money on reimbursing local governments when they fulfill records requests (see previous post).  The bill said agencies no longer needed to explain why they were unable to meet requests, and they could provide data in any form of their choosing.

Once the bill was passed, it attracted immediate criticism from news outlets and citizens who wrote editorials, emailed and called legislators en masse, according to the Times.

Public voices grew louder until Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) proposed legislation June 19 to rescind the bill’s negative side effects. But Pérez’s proposal was blocked in the Senate later that afternoon by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Steinberg suggested passing the original legislation and then passing a constitutional amendment one year later to reinstate the records act and force local governments to pay for all its costs, the Times said (see another previous post).

But the one-year window of government secrecy induced more public outcry, so the legislature eventually agreed to pass both Pérez’s substitute bill and Steinberg’s constitutional amendment, calling it a short-term and a long-term solution.

Open government group in New Mexico fights for previously denied records

Freedom of information advocates in New Mexico are requesting previously denied records about the travel and expenses of Gov. Susana Martinez’s security detail during the 2012 election season, according to the ABQ Journal.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) filed an inspection of Public Records Act request July 25 for “the schedules of any overtime paid to and all travel expenses of officers” assigned to Martinez’s personal security team when she made several political trips in August-October 2012, the Journal said.

The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Finance and Administration previously denied records requests from The Associated Press on grounds that the information might compromise the security of Martinez and her family.

But FOG argues that the agencies’ decision to deny the request flies in the face of a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling (Republican Party of New Mexico v. New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department) that prohibited the state from withholding records unless they are specifically exempted from release under the Inspection of Public Records Act or other regulation.

“This is a troubling response because we do not think it reflects clear direction from New Mexico’s Supreme Court on an important issue of public access,” FOG acting executive director Janice Honeycutt told the Journal. “We would urge the agency to comply and avoid a costly legal battle in which the taxpayers will likely pick up the tab.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: High fees in California and stress over a school survey

Journalists and open government advocates in California are riled up about Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal they fear could limit access to public documents.

California courts already charge $15 for court records searches lasting longer than 10 minutes. Under the new proposal, the courts could charge $10 for every name, file or information that comes back on a search, regardless of the time spent—a small fee some fear will come at a large price if it limits public access.

Initially, opponents such as California Senator Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, thought the fees would stifle investigative reporting in newsrooms where journalists are already pinching pennies.

According to a Courthouse News Service report, a California Assembly committee rejected the fee increase, and the state Senate committee approved it with the stipulation of an elusive press exemption. But what that exemption looks like is anyone’s guess.

Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publishers Association told Courthouse News Service the exemption was added before the hearing on Thursday, and he just found out about it that morning.

“No one involved us in any of those conversations,” he said.

Even with the exemption, Ewert thinks any price for free information is too high, especially when the public is under-educated about government court activities in the first place.

“Number one, we don’t know what the exemption does. Number two, it’s just a bad idea to deny access to records that the public has already paid for, and shield the public from an institution that it already has very little understanding about,” Ewert said.

On a less FOI (but still relevant) note, a high school teacher in Batavia, Ill., faced scrutiny for reminding students about their constitutional rights before administering an allegedly self-incriminating school survey, according to the Daily Herald.

The survey, meant to measure students’ social-emotional well-being, included questions about their drug and alcohol use. When social studies teacher John Dryden noticed his students’ names were printed on their surveys, he told them they had the Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating themselves by not answering the questions.

But administrators deemed Dryden’s decision unprofessional because he did not consult authority before he spoke. Sources say the school board met Tuesday to discuss disciplinary actions against Dryden in closed session, but so far the outcome of the meeting (if it even happened) is mum.

Since the survey was administered in mid-April, students and parents who support Dryden have started an online petition yielding more than 4,200 signatures to “Defend and Support” the teacher they say is simply trying to “make his students aware of their rights as citizens.”

And in the heat of the First Amendment issues of late involved the Obama administration, teaching students about their constitutional rights might be more considerate than criminal.

That’s all for now, folks. But as you know, First Amendment issues are all around us, so tell me what’s going on in your neighborhood.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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