Many governments in U.S. block freedom – of information

Nobody likes to get an F on an assignment. When it comes to an individual, though, they usually care enough to try and do better next time. That’s not likely to happen with the large number of failing grades handed out to state governments recently by the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The coalition works to protect our right to information from the government — remember, that bastion of power that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people?

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law under President Lyndon Johnson and was designed to ensure that the public could acquire information about what it’s government is up to.

Unfortunately, according to the NFIC study, 38 out of the 50 states scored an F with only Nebraska and New Jersey scoring a B — the highest grade achieved.

The haphazard construction of state public records laws has resulted in an information gap that significantly affects the citizenry’s ability to examine even the most fundamental actions of government.

Have you ever tried to get something from a government agency? The laws in place are supposed to protect us, but too often they are being manipulated to protect government activities. I recently heard, for example, that Wayne County in Southeast Michigan has taken the “reasonable fees” clause in Michigan’s FOIA law to mean they can charge $2.25 per page to copy a document. That’s absurd.

Many government agencies are using on-line interaction with residents — offering a place for elected officials to pump up their appeal before the next election or making it easier for citizens to pay their taxes and utility bills. How about a two-way street here? Why don’t governments have their budgets posted online? Why aren’t their checkbooks online so we know what’s really being spent on what? Why aren’t political donations tracked and made searchable? (To their credit, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office does a great job with this one.)

It’s time to revisit the Freedom of Information Act and refocus its clauses and exceptions on the key word: freedom. A population that doesn’t know what its government leaders are up to may find themselves wondering when they lost many of the freedoms they used to have. In this age of computers and Internet access, governments have no more excuses for keeping us in the dark or making it prohibitively expensive for us to get a peek at their inner workings.

How did your state rank? Mine came in sixth but only had an overall score of C, which to me doesn’t stand for “average,” it stands for “disappointing.”

Results

State Response Time Appeals Expedited Review Fees Sanctions Total Points Percent Grade
By grade Out of 4 Out of 2 Out of 2 Out of 4 Out of 4 Out of 16 Out of 100 A – F
Nebraska 4 2 1 3 4 14 87 B
New Jersey 4 2 1 4 3 14 87 B
Louisiana 4 0.5 1 4 3 12.5 78 C
Utah 3 1.5 1 3 4 12.5 78 C
Virginia 4 0.5 2 3 3 12.5 78 C
Michigan 4 2 1 4 1 12 75 C
Arkansas 4 0.5 2 4 1 11.5 72 C
Colorado 4 0.5 1 4 2 11.5 72 C
Rhode Island 3 2 0.5 4 1 10.5 66 D
West Virginia 4 0.5 1 4 1 10.5 66 D
Maryland 2 2 1 3 2 10 62 D
Vermont 4 2 1 3 0 10 62 D
State Response Time Appeals Expedited Review Fees Sanctions Total Points Percent Grade
By grade Out of 4 Out of 2 Out of 2 Out of 4 Out of 4 Out of 16 Out of 100 A – F
Illinois 4 1.5 1 3 0 9.5 59 F
Indiana 4 0.5 1 4 0 9.5 59 F
South Carolina 3 0.5 0 3 3 9.5 59 F
Washington 4 1 0 4 0 9 56 F
California 3 0.5 1 4 0 8.5 53 F
Connecticut 4 1.5 1 1 1 8.5 53 F
Florida 1 0.5 1 4 2 8.5 53 F
Iowa 0 0.5 0 4 4 8.5 53 F
Minnesota 1 0.5 1 2 4 8.5 53 F
Pennsylvania 3 1.5 0 2 2 8.5 53 F
Texas 3 1.5 0 3 1 8.5 53 F
Idaho 4 0.5 1.5 1 1 8 50 F
State Response Time Appeals Expedited Review Fees Sanctions Total Points Percent Grade
By grade Out of 4 Out of 2 Out of 2 Out of 4 Out of 4 Out of 16 Out of 100 A – F
Kansas 4 0.5 1 1 1 7.5 47 F
Kentucky 4 1.5 1 1 0 7.5 47 F
New Mexico 3 0.5 0 4 0 7.5 47 F
Oregon 1 1.5 1 4 0 7.5 47 F
Hawaii 0 2 1 4 0 7 44 F
North Dakota 1 2 0 2 2 7 44 F
Georgia 4 0.5 0 1 1 6.5 41 F
Maine 4 0.5 1 0 1 6.5 41 F
Mississippi 3 0.5 1 1 1 6.5 41 F
Missouri 4 0.5 0 1 1 6.5 41 F
Nevada 1 0.5 1 4 0 6.5 41 F
New Hampshire 4 0.5 1 1 0 6.5 41 F
State Response Time Appeals Expedited Review Fees Sanctions Total Points Percent Grade
By grade Out of 4 Out of 2 Out of 2 Out of 4 Out of 4 Out of 16 Out of 100 A – F
New York 4 1.5 0 1 0 6.5 41 F
Oklahoma 1 0.5 0 4 1 6.5 41 F
Wisconsin 1 0.5 0 4 1 6.5 41 F
North Carolina 1 0.5 1 3 0 5.5 34 F
Ohio 1 0.5 0 4 0 5.5 34 F
Delaware 1 2 0 2 0 5 31 F
Massachusetts 3 2 0 0 0 5 31 F
Arizona 0 0.5 0 3 0 3.5 22 F
Tennessee 0 0.5 1 1 0 2.5 16 F
Wyoming 1 0.5 0 0 1 2.5 16 F
Montana 1 0.5 0 0 0 1.5 9 F
Alaska 0 0.5 0 0 0 0.5 3 F
Alabama 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 F
South Dakota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 F
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3 comments on “Many governments in U.S. block freedom – of information

  1. Pingback: State governments get failing grade in FOIA study | Digital Pivot

  2. Thank you for the very imformative article, Ms. McGraw. The nation’s founders understood that a free press is essential for a free people and so made it the only business mentioned by name in the Constitution.

    Things have changed. It’s now clear state governments are following Uncle Sam’s lead in slowing public access to information.

    Why? My belief is that if We the People knew what was going on in our name, we’d vote the scoundrels out or get them indicted.

    Like

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