Transparency News 6/11/18



June 11, 2018


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state & local news stories


"With no explanation, the DOC eliminated all recorded interviews within mid- to maximum-security level prisons."

Almost a year after the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter urging then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia Department of Corrections to change the department’s policy to allow journalists to use recording devices during prison interviews, the restrictive policy remains the same. In the July letter, the Reporters Committee argued that the policy limits the public’s access to prisons, the speech of Virginia inmates and the ability of the news media to effectively report on matters of public concern. In 2011, the corrections department’s policy did actually permit the use of on-camera interviews and recording equipment on a case-by-case basis, but that changed in 2013, according to Caitlin Vogus, a staff attorney with the Reporters Committee. With no explanation, she said, the DOC eliminated all recorded interviews within mid- to maximum-security level prisons.
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

The Maine judiciary Thursday announced that the public would be able to access some court documents online once the $15 million electronic case filing system is implemented over the next few years, but that it would not be free. Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said that the system would be similar to the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records or PACER. Subscribers to that system pay both an annual fee and a fee for each page viewed online. The court has not yet determined what the cost for that system will be, who will be able to subscribe or what kinds of cases will be available on the internet.
Bangor Daily News

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved to reinstate a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff's concerns that the organization did not meet federal education standards. A report obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Politico shows that senior officials at the Department of Education had serious concerns about the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), which was terminated under the Obama administration in 2016. The March 2018 report by agency personnel concluded that ACICS should not be reinstated, Politico reported. But DeVos moved to allow the organization to resume operations anyway in April, after a judge ruled the Obama administration illegally ignored relevant evidence to the case.

First Amendment advocates erupted in outrage and concern in response to the news that the Department of Justice had seized years’ worth of email and phone records from a New York Times reporter as part of an investigation into government leaks — and wondered how many other journalists may be under similar surveillance. As the result of a leaks investigation, James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide, was arrested and charged on Thursday with lying to investigators about his contacts with reporters. The indictment refers to four reporters, including Watkins.

Why did Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, approve adding a hotly contested citizenship question to 2020 census forms? On Friday, the Commerce Department released 1,320 pages of internal memos, emails and other documents related to Ross's decision as part of the lawsuits against the citizenship question. They provide some new insight into the behind-the-scenes discussions leading up to the commerce secretary's controversial announcement in March — one that could have ripple effects on the 2020 census results that will be used to reallocate congressional seats, draw legislative districts and distribute an estimated $800 billion a year in federal funds.




editorials & columns


"The American Revolution was fought to end this 'divine right of the king' double-standard mentality."

The May 27 “public records” editorial stating that some Tennessee government agencies create barriers and restrictions on the public’s access to public records is the tip of the iceberg of obstructing the public trust. Some states are so opposed to releasing records that requestors are forced to hire an attorney taking the government agency to court. Why would government hide, restrict, and seal records that show how they interface with the people? A role reversal has occurred: Government can demand all of our documents and yet choose what records government will and will not let the American people see. The American Revolution was fought to end this “divine right of the king” double-standard mentality.
Charlie Sewell, Bristol Herald Courier

Love us or hate us, state legislative leaders have given you one more reason why the press is needed. In a step backward and without public input, Connecticut’s legislative leaders decided to abandon the long-standing practice of routinely transcribing the testimony presented at hundreds of public hearings held during legislative sessions. Officials say the move is budgetary, saving about $100,000 a year, but further erodes the public’s ability to know what is happening at the State Capitol and marks a setback for Connecticut’s 43-year-old Freedom of Information Act, which was once the strongest in the nation.
Norwich Bulletin