Coalition Welcomes D.C. Council Bill to Improve Open Government Laws
dcogcadmin | January 20, 2016
Council Members David Grosso (I-At large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) Tuesday (19) introduced a sweeping set of measures to improve open government laws of the District of Columbia. Council Member Anita Bonds (D-At large) also cosponsored the bill, the “Strengthening Transparency and Open Access to Government Amendment Act of 2016.”
Coalition President Kevin Goldberg hailed the measure as “a set of improvements the community has been advocating for some time that we were delighted to have helped to draft and that we look forward to supporting as the measure moves forward in the Council.”
Mr. Grosso thanked “numerous advocates as well as the Office of Open Government that helped” in the bill’s development and praised Mayor Muriel Bowser also for “commitment to transparency” including a recent initiative on open data that he said “complements” the bill.
The 25-page draft includes dozens of provisions including changes to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act such as:
· Strengthening access to agency records of contractors and agency datasets
· Requiring free access if the charge is less than the costs of collection
· Requiring a common fee schedule to be developed by the Office of Open Government
· Updating the definition of “media” requesters
· Requiring waiver of fees if an agency fails to respond promptly
· Lengthening the deadline for agency response from 15 days to 20
· Requiring agencies to provide requesters with more details of records denied and reasons
· Reassigning appeals of denials from the Mayor to the independent Office of Open Government and allowing appeal of fee-waiver denials
· Speeding up steps of any court challenge to an agency denial
· Strengthening the annual reporting on FOIA by the Mayor to the Council and
· Giving the Office of Open Government authority to establish uniform FOIA procedures and improved request tracking
Publication of agency data is made a statutory responsibility of a Chief Data Officer.
Changes to the Open Meetings Act include:
· Creating a right to bring a court action for residents when a meeting that should be open is improperly closed
· Requiring the Mayor to publish information about appointees to governmental boards and commissions in a centralized location and to collect demographic data about appointees
· Adding Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that were previously exempt from the Act
Grosso noted the Open Government office “needs more resources even under its current role, which is why I recently asked the Mayor to include additional money in her FY17 budget for the Office. Having an open and accountable government is something we should constantly strive for in D.C. “
The bill is B21-0577 and has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.