Covid-19 and Police Reforms:

What is your Right-to-Know?

From Covid-19 to police reforms, 2020 has left agencies navigating new, uncharted waters of public record requests.

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Legislation

Pennsylvania Governor lets bill on records access during disasters become law

Pennsylvania’s governor says legislation to require that state government agencies continue processing public records requests during disasters is “ill-conceived and poorly drafted,” but he’s letting it become law without his signature.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced late Sunday [July 26] he will neither sign nor veto the legislation, which passed both legislative chambers unanimously.

The bill says state agencies may only deny records requests during fires, floods or other disasters, under the provisions that are laid out in the state Right-to-Know Law. The bill also says governors can’t simply tell agencies to ignore requests during disaster emergencies.

The bill lays out what data and other records related to a disaster emergencies need to be provided to the public.

Wolf says he’s concerned about forcing state workers to go to their offices to dig up requests under dangerous conditions.

The Office of Open Records will develop guidelines so records can be retrieved as safely as possible.

In a statement announcing he will allow the bill to become law without his signature, Wolf calls the legislation “no more than a talking point for many in the General Assembly.” He notes the Legislature has resisted expanding the open records law to cover more about lawmakers’ own records and activities.

Read More | The Washington Times 

New Jersey lawmakers want coronavirus records to be public after Governor Murphy administration says no

New Jersey residents would gain a better understanding of how officials handled the coronavirus under a bill two Senate Democrats introduced Tuesday [July 28] to make more government documents subject to public scrutiny.

The bill changes a sentence in state law that Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has repeatedly used to withhold information, including documents showing supplies of protective gear and equipment at hospitals and long-term care facilities and how officials coordinated with federal health experts in the pandemic’s earliest days.

“Emergencies are not the time for darkness, because darkness breeds skepticism, suspicion and mistrust — the very last things New Jersey needs as we navigate these uncharted waters,” Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in a statement announcing the bill.

Weinberg said the bill is a response to reports by the Trenton Bureau of the USA TODAY NETWORK Atlantic Group, The Associated Press and NJ Advance Media, which publishes the Star-Ledger. The three individual news organizations in May compared notes about what records were being withheld.

The Network and Associated Press had been denied records based on the Emergency Health Powers Act, the 2005 law that allows Murphy to declare a public health emergency and take extraordinary measures such as enforcing quarantines and mandating vaccines.

Weinberg and Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, both sponsored the law about 15 years ago and told the Network that keeping records secret was not their intent.

“Everyone understands that these are unprecedented times, but we can’t let the anxiety over uncertainty deny our residents their right to know what their government is doing and why they are doing it,” Vitale said in a statement.

Their bill, if passed by the Legislature and signed by Murphy, would make records related to the current or any future public health emergency subject to disclosure under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

Read More | Northjersey.com

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signs sweeping police reform bill

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed comprehensive police accountability legislation into law Friday afternoon [July 31].

The law institutes a new statewide watchdog for police misconduct, bans “chokeholds” in most instances and puts limits on the ability of police departments to withhold officers’ disciplinary records. It also allows individual officers to be held financially liable in civil suits over their actions.

The law requires all departments statewide to equip officers with body-worn cameras and places limits on the military equipment Connecticut police departments can acquire or use.

The bill, officially known as H.B. 6004 and titled “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” passed the Connecticut State Senate by a 21-15 vote early Wednesday morning [July 29] after hours of deliberation.

“These reforms are focused on bringing real change to end the systemic discrimination that exists in our criminal justice and policing systems that have impacted minority communities for far too long,” Lamont said in a news release.

“Ultimately, what we are enacting today are policies focused on providing additional safeguards to protect peoples’ lives and make our communities stronger. Our nation and our state has been having a conversation on this topic for decades, and these reforms are long overdue.”

The Connecticut law creates an independent Office of the Inspector General at the state level to investigate all uses of deadly force by police in the state, or all instances of death in police custody. The legislation grants the inspector general’s office subpoena power, and charges it with referring possible prosecutions to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice.

It also allows the state’s police accreditation body to revoke a law enforcement officer’s credentials if they have been found to have used excessive force.

Read MoreKESQ News

The 2020 Digital Cities Survey is Now Open For Submissions!

The Center for Digital Government invites U.S. cities to participate in the 20th Annual Digital Cities

Peer Resources

Webinar: The Economics of Public Records Management

Your budgets may be slashed; but your Public Record backlog and the threat of litigation aren’t going anywhere. Now more than ever, in this time of Covid-19, you need a solution to respond to urgent requests that securely supports remote work and helps your agency recover out-of-pocket costs; a system that pays for itself.

Join GovQA’s Chief Evangelist, Jen Snyder for a webinar on the economics of Public Records Management. During this brief 30-minute webinar Jen will…

  • Cover trends we’re seeing in regards to rising post-Covid request volumes
  • Explain how to calculate your ROI and discuss how to use Covid funding to fast-track your savings
  • Share tips on how to leverage modern technology so you can do more with less

 

Session 1:

 

Session 2:

Read More | GovQA

COVID-19 Crisis Assessment & Future Plan

Improving Your Agency's Flexibility and Speed

“It’s an unprecedented time for governments”, notes Deloitte in the executive summary of a recent article. “The rapid spread of the virus is challenging governments in ways normally reserved for war, depressions, or natural disasters.”

We are now approximately 5 months into the Covid-19 pandemic crisis response across the U.S. What can government agencies like yours do to keep citizens informed and offer guidance and leadership as you move through all three stages of crisis response: Response, Recovery, and Thrive? How can your agency come out stronger on the other side?

This document was created to help agencies identify where they are in the three stages, rate their response or plans for each stage, and work through plans for future crises. Read the summaries and answer the questions in a working file you can share with your team.

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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