Cost of Transparency? 

Depends which state you’re in..

States continue to battle the best action plan for releasing records related to the novel Covid-19 pandemic and police reform.

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Legislation

Hawaii Governor Declines to Address Open Records Request

Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s office declined to provide copies of communications about the coronavirus that his staff exchanged with the state Department of Health, the tourism industry and other organizations.

The Associated Press asked for the documents in May under Hawaii’s open records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act. Ige’s office said it would not comply, however, citing an emergency order he signed suspending deadlines for such information due to the pandemic.

“When the suspension is lifted and government employees are able to work in their offices and normal government operations have resumed, your request will be addressed,” the governor’s office said.

The AP filed similar open-records requests to governors’ offices across the U.S. during a critical period when they were considering reopening plans after coronavirus shutdowns.

Thousands of pages of emails provided to the AP show that governors were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries, and sometimes allowed businesses to help write the rules for their own operations.

Read More | U.S. News 

Virus records request in Maryland said to cost thousands

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s counsel estimated it would cost more than $5,800 to produce records requested by The Associated Press relating to COVID-19 and business, health and local government groups as the state weighed policies about reopening.

In an emailed response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, the counsel for the governor wrote that more than 5,700 records between April 12 and May 22 had been identified as potentially relevant. It would take more than 10 working days to produce the records in the state’s possession, according to the June 8 email from Christopher Mincher, the senior deputy legal counsel.

Mincher wrote that it would take about 57 hours for an attorney to review the documents for material that would be exempt from disclosure and 23 hours for a paralegal to produce them.

The Associated Press filed open-records requests in May seeking copies of communications between governors’ offices across the U.S. and health, business and local government organizations during a critical period when they were considering reopening plans after coronavirus shutdowns. Thousands of pages of emails provided to the AP show that governors were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries, and sometimes allowed businesses to help write the rules for their own operations.

After a follow-up request by the AP to narrow the search in Maryland, Mincher responded by saying that 2,066 potentially relevant documents were found. It would take about 20 hours for an attorney to review the documents and 10 hours for a paralegal to prepare, potentially redact and produce the documents, the email said.

Omitting charges for the first two hours of searching and preparation as required by law, Mincher wrote the anticipated cost would be $1,972.88.

Read MoreThe Huron Daily Tribune

South Carolina Press Association urges lawmakers to grant public access to body cameras

A state House subcommittee is discussing matters of police reform Tuesday, [Aug. 25] and the South Carolina Press Association is urging lawmakers to make police body camera footage public.

Under current body camera legislation in South Carolina, footage captured by law enforcement is exempt from public disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act.

The SCPA president wants to change that, and he sent letters to editors of newspapers across South Carolina Monday [Aug. 24] to lobby on their behalf. A letter was also sent to the subcommittee along with proposed amendments to the body camera bill.

SCPA president Bill Rogers said he hopes the legislators take his letter and proposed amendments into consideration.

“I think this is the time,” Rogers said. “It’s so important that police body cameras be made public. That’s one of the most important things. You can’t have oversight of police if they’re hiding the video, and right now they’re doing that.”

Rogers, in his letter, argued that citizen video is the only reason the public knows about the deaths of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and Walter Scott from the police shooting in North Charleston.

The Press Association proposal also includes language that footage may not be withheld from the public on the basis that it was compiled for law enforcement purposes or for an investigatory record.

Read More | Greenville News

Litigation

Illinois Public Officials’ Private Emails, Text Messages Now Subject to FOIA

Public officials are no longer shielded by private emails or phones when conducting public business. The First District Court of Illinois agreed with the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit, that an elected official or public worker cannot keep messages about their public dealings secret by using a private email earlier [in August].

In the court ruling written by Judge Cynthia Cobbs, she says that the e-mails and text messages from those officials’ personal accounts are ‘in the possession of’ a public body within the meaning of a freedom of information request. Cobbs’ ruling also says that whatever is written in those private communications is usually used and prepared for use in the public body anyway.

The BGA, represented by law firm Loevy and Loevy, filed a suit in Circuit Court in 2017 after the City of Chicago denied its Freedom of Information Act Request for private communications regarding lead in the city’s drinking water. The suit resulted in thousands of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s private communications with lobbyists, other officials, even Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner being released to the public. The city soon banned private communications under city statute.

Read More | WLDS News

Peer Feature

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Launches Major Overhaul to Modernize its Public Records Request System

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Launches Major Overhaul to Modernize its Public Records Request System.

Like many agencies across the nation, Oregon DEQ’s public records request system was a combination of manual and semi-automated processes — decentralized and lacking consistency. Moving requests from intake through the release of records was tedious and time-consuming.

In a press release from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) published on KTVZ.com, the agency set the stage: “Responding to records requests is a top priority, and DEQ is modernizing to better serve the public.”

Learn how the Oregon DEQ has leveraged GovQA’s Public Request System to…

  1. Eliminate manual steps
  2. Centralize and standardize
  3. Improve payment collection tools
  4. Report easier
  5. Improve requester experience

Read More | GovQA

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 peers@govqa.com.

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