FOIA Rundown: Reform bill delayed, lethal injection secrecy, and more

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This post is adapted from CJ Ciaramella's weekly Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

FOIA Reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee pushed back a hearing on the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, where it was expected to vote on the bill and advance it to the Senate floor. Here's a statement from committee chairman Leahy, courtesy of the FOIA Blog:

I have worked with Senator Cornyn for months on the FOIA Improvement Act. It has broad bipartisan support, including the support of Ranking Member Grassley. Because of scheduling challenges in the Senate this Thursday, we are likely to hold the Committee markup off the floor this week. This FOIA bill should be debated in full public view, and so we will hold over our legislation this week so all members and the public can participate in this important debate. I expect the Judiciary Committee will approve our bipartisan legislation next week when the Committee meets at its regularly-scheduled time.

The hearing has been rescheduled for Thursday, November 20, 10:00 a.m., in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The delay will shrink the already small window left to pass the bill in the lame duck session. If passed, it will then have to be reconciled with the House bill.

LAWSUITS

  • Appeals court affirms that the SEC and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a private organization that oversees securities arbitrations, can withhold documents under Exemption 8 of the FOIA.
  • Virginian-Pilot sues FBI over denied record request for docs on fatal training exercise.
  • Judicial Watch sues
    DHS for border crisis planning records.
  • Judicial Watch sues FCC for records on "critical information needs" newsroom study.

Lethal injection secrecy: The Ohio legislature is considering a bill that would shield the identity of companies that provide the drug compounds used in lethal injections. Cleveland.com reports:

Ohio, along with many other states, has been struggling to settle on an execution method, as many large pharmaceutical companies have refused to continue selling drugs used for lethal injection. The state's current two-drug cocktail is being challenged in court and has been used in controversial executions in Ohio and Arizona.

House Bill 663 would keep secret the identities of compounding pharmacies, small-scale drug manufacturers that create individual doses of lethal-injection drugs on demand. The proposed change is a sign that state officials could turn to compounding pharmacies for lethal-injection drugs that courts have upheld but that larger companies have stopped selling, such as pentobarbital.

In Arizona, a lawsuit brought by Federal Public Defenders and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona is also seeking to pry free more details about the state's lethal injection policies. According to transcripts of the latest status conference in the case, an internal report on the state's lethal injection protocols should be finished mid-November.

Meanwhile, the AP and other news orgs filed another lawsuit in late October also seeking more information on the execution:

"No proper basis exists for (the Department of Corrections) to abridge the public's constitutional right of access to this information and to the execution," the AP lawsuit states.

Information about Arizona's lethal injection drugs had been public until 2010, a few months before the state had to find new drugs and a manufacturer after an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company stopped making the drug that had been used for several years.

Since then, officials have refused to disclose the source, composition and quality of the drugs despite public and media requests. The issue has come up in other states as prison officials have refused to release information about execution protocols.

"By protecting the identity of its commercial drug suppliers, the ADC is intentionally thwarting the right of interested parties to engage in constitutionally protected activity, as well as the First Amendment right of plaintiffs to report on the identity and qualifications of drug suppliers, to report on the quality and efficacy of the drugs used, or to report on deviations from the intended protocol," the lawsuit states.

Redaction of the Week: Courtesy of Lee Fang, a Comcast exec congratulating FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Documents of Note

  • Thirteen states refuse to release data to MuckRock on Pentagon equipment transfers to local police. "But the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency of Louisiana insisted that fulfilling the same request would involve printing approximately 20,000 pages of paper files at a cost of $5,000."
  • ACLU files FOIA request for unreleased DHS privacy report on laptop searches at the border.
  • AP president Gary Pruitt sends letter to Attorney General Holder and FBI director demanding FBI never impersonate reporter again. "In stealing our identity, the FBI tarnishes that reputation, belittles the value of the free press rights enshrined in our Constitution and endangers AP journalists and other newsgatherers around the world," he wrote. "This deception corrodes the most fundamental tenet of a free press - our independence from government control and corollary responsibility to hold government accountable."
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation has video up of last week's conference on journalism and encryption.
  • Sunlight Foundation's "Today in OpenGov" roundup is now available as a morning newsletter.

"We had a good laugh about it. The cable companies... not so much." Over at The Verge, Colin Lecher put in a FOIA request for internal FCC emails about John Oliver's segment on net neutrality. The results are pretty great.

STATE NEWS

  • Good actor: In response to lawsuit, University of Oklahoma president orders parking tickets made public. " For more than four years, OU officials had denied access to the parking tickets issued to students, calling them confidential education records under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA."
  • Bad actor: University of Iowa rejects records request for communications re: fired coach, citing FERPA.

Congrats to Barbara Brown, winner of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government's citizen award.

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