Public Forum Law Week in Review: 7/7/08

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Open Government

Bills to Reduce Over-classification Approved
UPI reports that the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee has unanimously passed two bills authored by California Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Venice) that would reduce excessive security classifications by the Department of Homeland Security.

Study: No Great FOIA Progress in 2 Years
A just completed study
by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government shows that federal
departments and agencies made little progress in responding to Freedom
of Information Act requests, despite a two-year-old presidential
directive to improve service. The report, “An Opportunity Lost,” says
agencies cut staff and FOIA spending in 2007 and as a result failed to
take advantage of a sharp fall-off in FOIA requests to make significant
reductions in the backlog of unprocessed requests

Public Information

Governor Signs Bill on Access to Contracts
State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) reports that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed into law Yee’s bill, SB 1696, to allow greater public access to government contracts as well as audits and reviews of public agencies.

Judge to Unseal Records in Facebook Case
CNET News.com reports that the public will be allowed a peek at some of what was said two weeks ago during a settlement hearing in the long-running legal dispute between ConnectU and Facebook.

Biofuels Study Suppressed for Bush’s Sake?
The United Kingdom’s newspaper The Guardian reports it has a copy of a World Bank report concluding that biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75 percent—far more than previously estimated.  The report has been kept confidential, the paper says, to avoid embarrassing President Bush, who has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China. The World Bank study states, "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."

Paper Presents Freedom of Information Site
The United Kingdom’s newspaper The Guardian devotes a page of its website to the English and Scottish Freedom of Information Acts, with both explanations of how the laws work, guides to using them, and a list of the paper’s own stories about open government issues, or made possible with information from government files obtained under the laws.

School District Short on Special Ed Facts
The Morgan Hill Times reports that school district officials gave few answers to the many questions asked of them via a special education-related California Public Records Act Request filed by a district parent and trustee, saying they just don't have the documents handy.

District Hospital Keeps Kaiser Deal Secrets
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that most of the important details of a 2004 contract between the Palomar Pomerado Health District and Kaiser Permanente, including the amount of money involved, are secret because, district officials say, the contract is not subject to public disclosure.

Free Speech

Court: Abortion Display Lawful Near School
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that pro-life advocates had a constitutional right to drive a truck displaying enlarged, graphic photographs of early-term aborted fetuses around the perimeter of a public middle school in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Minutemen Win Temporary Roadside Spot
Sonoran News.com reports that in what the San Diego Minutemen call a total victory, a federal judge has granted them a preliminary injunction requiring Caltrans to reinstate their permit to participate in its Adopt-a-Highway Program segment along I-5, and reinstall its courtesy signs, during the pendency of a lawsuit to determine whether the anti-illegal immigration group has a First Amendment right to take part in the program near the border.

Court Order Bars Recall Petitioning at Store
Newsblaze.com reports that Solano County judge Paul Beeman last week granted a preliminary injunction to Raley's, Inc. that allows the supermarket chain to ban petitioning by "Save Our Suisun," the group circulating petitions to recall three members of the city council, not only in its store, but also on the sidewalk in front and on the sides of its store in the Heritage Shopping Center in Suisun.

Whistleblowers

Warning: Bill Provides Tools for Police State
Wired magazine reports that Mark Klein, the retired AT&T engineer who stepped forward with the technical documents at the heart of the anti-wiretapping case against AT&T, is furious at the Senate's apparent intention to put an end to that lawsuit and more than 30 others with its approval of the FISA Amendments bill tomorrow. And a decision last week by the judge in one of the cases undermines one of the key rationales for telephone company immunity, reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Wikileaks: Just Starting to Blow Whistles
Wired magazine reports that, after 18 months of publishing government, industry and military secrets that have sparked international scandals, led to takedown threats and briefly gotten the site banned in the United States, co-founder Julian Assange says Wikileaks is just getting started changing the world.

Open Meetings

Governor Signs New Ban on Serial Meetings
The Legislative Bulletin of the California Newspaper Publishers Association reports that Governor Schwaarzenegger last week signed SB 1732, a bill intended to revitalize the Brown Act’s prohibition against serial meetings. The signature concludes a year-and-a-half effort by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and CNPA to overturn what the Bulletin calls “a bad appellate court decision that gave members of local bodies the green light to freely discuss the public’s business with each other outside a noticed, open and public meeting so long as no agreement was reached.”

Grand Jury Faults Building Deal Secrecy
The Woodland Daily Democrat reports that repeated viol
ations of the Brown Act involved in the negotiations to buy a former Blue Shield building for a new central office are among the complaints against the Woodland Joint Unified School District and its board of trustees in the Yolo County Grand Jury's final report, released last week; also reported—the district’s informal reply to the report, and the newspaper’s own editorial view.

Letter Seeking Resignation Questioned
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that some Baldwin Park school board members have accused the city council of overstepping its bounds with a letter calling for trustee Sergio Corona's resignation.  But how the letter was approved is also an issue.

Open Courts

Court Denies Motion to Recuse Yolo Judges
The Sacramento Bee reports that, in the latest development stemming from the exclusion of the press and public from the arraignment of Marco Antonio Topete on a capital murder charge, Judge David Rosenberg denied a defense motion last week to exclude all the judges in Yolo Superior Court from presiding over the case. Topete's lawyer had sought to exclude the judges because the man Topete is accused of killing June 15—Yolo County sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz—had worked as a bailiff in Woodland.

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