2020 Vision Reveals

the Need for Transparency

Transparency advocates encourage states to enhance their transparency measures amid the Covid pandemic and sweeping police reforms.

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Legislation

Bills opening Michigan Legislature, governor to records requests get elusive Senate hearing

Tuesday, [Sept. 15] the Senate Oversight Committee will take testimony on proposals to implement the changes that have stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate the last two sessions.

“This is something that is going to shift the way legislators are scrutinized and the governor is scrutinized by the citizens of this state,” said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who has championed the proposals along with Senate Oversight Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

The proposals would remove the current exemption for the Governor’s Office from the Freedom of Information Act and would create a “Legislative Open Records Act” to guide requests for lawmakers’ documents.

The proposals’ exemptions include communications between a legislator’s office and a constituent and records held by the legislative caucuses.

The House has already approved bills in 107-0 votes in March 2019. McBroom, whose committee will consider the bills Tuesday, [Sept. 15] said he hasn’t received a commitment that they will receive a vote before the full Senate.

Read More | The Detroit News

Bill to enhance transparency of criminal records advances in Virginia House

Legislation that would enhance transparency of criminal investigative files advanced Friday [Sept. 4] past a Virginia House committee.

The bill, House Bill 5090, would make criminal investigative files open to the public in accordance with provisions in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Police would be allowed to petition a court to withhold the release of a file if they can show the release would jeopardize an investigation or cause harm.

Under current law, the release of such files is discretionary.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, advanced through the House Appropriations Committee, 13-9.

The committee also advanced legislation that would require local police departments to have teams trained to deal with people who have mental health problems. It also advanced a bill to expand the earned sentence credit system, which allows prisoners to earn credits that reduce their sentence.

Read MoreThe Center Square 

Georgia wants $22,434 for COVID-19 records, says they’ll be ready next spring

Baltimore Police leaders, citing the death of George Floyd that sparked protests across Maryland and the country, are joining a chorus of voices lobbying for substantial changes in how police officers in Maryland are investigated and held accountable for misconduct.

Baltimore’s leadership is asking lawmakers to change the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a decades-old law that grants Maryland police officers the right to due process and protects them against unnecessary investigation or prosecution. But in recent years, many advocates have sought to reform the officers’ bill of rights, which they say has made it more difficult to punish bad police officers and isn’t transparent enough.

A House of Delegates police reform work group heard hours of testimony Thursday [Aug. 6] during an online public hearing in favor of reforming or repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said the law is a “straitjacket” that makes it difficult to discipline police officers. The Maryland Public Information Act, meanwhile, protects the disciplinary records of officers shielded from public scrutiny.

Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, along with city leaders, is seeking changes that would allow the police commissioner to fire officers charged with felonies and misdemeanors, instead of having to wait until they are convicted. The city made its request in a letter to the state Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which was formed to look into widespread corruption by the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force, which led to more than a dozen officers being convicted in federal court.

The department wants Harrison to have the ability to fire officers “in the days immediately following a criminal incident, as the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department did last month,” wrote Kristin E. Blumer, a city chief solicitor.

In addition to the ability to quickly terminate, the changes sought by Baltimore would ask the legislature to give officers “a mechanism to petition the law enforcement agency to rehire or reinstate them in the event the criminal charges resulted in a not guilty verdict.”

Read MoreAJC News

Litigation

Journalists Fight Foot-Dragging by Oakland Police on Records Requests

Citing a pattern of consistent stonewalling, investigative journalists have taken the Oakland Police Department to court to force it to comply with state public records laws.

Two petitions brought in Alameda County Superior Court claim the department routinely ignores public records requests, professing a commitment to transparency even as thousands of open Public Records Act requests languish in their system.

The Oakland Police Department, like any other government agency, must comply with the California Public Records Act’s strict response deadline of 10 days, plus an additional 14 days if it invokes a specific exemption. But the department is also required to “promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor” by disclosing whether it has responsive records or whether it will be withholding them under a statutory exception.

The journalists say the department has done neither, adding that it also flouts the Sunshine Ordinance enacted by Oakland enacted to bolster the CPRA.

The petitioners say that “despite these clear mandates, OPD routinely and systematically ignores the law,” adding the department regularly extends its own self-imposed 30-day deadline without explanation.

Read More | Courthouse News Service

Peer Resources

Using CARES Act Funding to Move Records Requests into the Cloud

Your agency’s open records, legal requests, complaints, and other information exchange responsibilities won’t go away just because your budget is shrinking.

Do more with less by choosing the GovQA cloud-based SaaS platform suite of workflow automation tools (including powerful redaction functions) to:

SECURELY MODERNIZE YOUR AGENCY’S HANDLING OF ALL TYPES OF REQUESTS FROM THE PUBLIC, MEDIA, AND OTHER AGENCIES WITH NO IT SUPPORT REQUIRED FROM YOUR STAFF AND NO LIMITS ON FILE SIZES OR TYPES.

Replace legacy systems with the telework-friendly GovQA enterprise productivity cloud solution using CARES Act funding (and proposed IT modernization act funding). Invest in GovQA, and let us handle implementation, setup, user questions, and tech support. You can even put money back into your budget with payment processor integration that lets your agency more easily collect fees for materials and time.

Read more to get funding sources defined and to learn where you can get funds.

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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