Yesterday marked a tragic day for our country when two bombs going off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing two and injuring over 100 others.
In the face of this act of terror, I stand comforted by two things. The first is the sheer amount of people who rushed to the aid of those injured, who ran towards the blasts rather than away from them.
I also stand proud of all the citizen journalists, who through social media, were able to send out instantaneous pictures, videos, and information on what was happening. Furthermore, thanks to those at Google and other social networks, people were able to find their loved ones even after cell phones failed.
I’d like to send a personal thank you to everyone who stepped up to help yesterday—you are what keeps my faith in humanity strong.
A search for “public records open meetings” yields several headlines relating to the strength of state sunshine laws. Included is another story about a paper noticing the flaws in state transparency. Phil Lewis, Executive Editor of the Daily News, sees Florida’s state sunshine laws as lacking in four areas. Lewis believes that Florida’s laws could strengthen the right to speak in open meetings, enforcing the laws, the price of public records and online access to public records.
The top three results for public records and open meetings news stories regard a new bill in North Carolina. State Sen. Thom Goolsby filed a bill Thursday that would criminalize violations of the open meetings and public records laws. As written, neither the public records nor open meetings laws has a criminal penalty. He hopes penalties encourage government transparency. Goolsby is also working on a bill to increase access to personnel issue deliberations.
After these three stories, the next result is from the Youngstown Vindicator with “Weakening of public records, open meetings law is alarming.” The editorial is a two-pronged attack on the institutions weakening the Ohio Public Records Law: the state legislature and the state supreme court. “The string between tax money and the public should not be severed simply because the money is funneled to a ‘private’ entity. Members of the public still have an interest in how decisions are made about the spending of their money.”
The Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) is a comprehensive Utah law dealing with the management of public records. “It is an attempt to balance the public’s constitutional right of access to information concerning public business, the individual’s constitutional right of privacy when the government gathers personal data, and the public policy interest in allowing a government to restrict access to certain records for the public good.”
Under GRAMA, the Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, responds to requests for information regarding records that are prepared, owned or retained by the Attorney General’s office. Individuals seeking information from other agencies may make a GRAMA request directly to the agency that holds the records.
In 2011, Utah legislators attempted to limit the amount of information accessible via GRAMA requests. These attempts were met with ardent criticism from transparency activists, community members, and many legislators. Ultimately, the changes were rejected. Not only does Utah continue to lead the way with strong, proactive transparency legislation, public involvement and influence on the legislative process has also remained strong.
Now, as Utah legislators consider expanding and improving the state transparency laws, legislators are sure to include input from the public and other interested parties. It is the efforts of the government and public working together that is extraordinary and obviously beneficial. The successes in Utah are demonstrative that contributions from the public and the efforts of the government implementing those ideas produce the best results.
In response to the The Journal News publishing the address of gun owners in New York there has been a flurry of legislation proposed to exempt gun data from public records.
Currently in nine states gun permits are subject to public record. Eight states say guns must be registered and four major cities, including Chicago and New York City, also require registration of firearms. However, 25 states do consider conceal and carry lists subject to public record and many states consider gun permit applications subject to public record.
States proposing legislation:
Michigan: Legislation would exempt pistol permit applications and a database which tracks pistol histories.
Mississippi: Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon and Sen. Will Longwitz of Madison have proposed legislation that would exempt conceal carry permit from public records.
New York: New York has already adopted legislation allowing permit holder to request their information be kept private.
More than 550 plaintiffs settled with the archdiocese in 2007 for a record-breaking $660 million, but the agreement also called for a process to vet personnel files for future release. The documents include letters and memos between top church officials and their attorneys, medical and psychological records, complaints from parents and, in some cases, correspondence with the Vatican about abusive priests.
More than 20 accused priests have held up the release in court for five years, arguing that making their files public would violate their privacy rights.
The LA Times and Associated Press are suing about the redaction of church officials who may have known about the abuse and chose to do nothing. They say the public is entitled to know what the priests knew and how they handled the situation.
Recently retired Cardinal Roger Mahony may be one of the many names revealed in the court documents.
If this was a case of public employees or officials who knowingly did nothing to stop child sexual abuse, as in the Sandusky case, there would be little doubt to the public’s right to the knowledge.
But should the church be treated the same as public institutions because it’s not funded by tax revenues? Should names be released for those who have been accused—but not convicted—and settled rather than face a trial?
And while many, including me, have a knee-jerk reaction that the public should knowthese officials names, the judge must observe the implications of these redactions and how they will be used in our judicial system for future cases.