Revisions to Minnesota Law Concerning Freedom of Information

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A timely post by our guest blogger Charlie Leck on the state of FOI in Minnesota. Earlier, Charlie wrote about the IPAD proposed bill and has since actively participated in state brainstorm meetings about the bill so he is back to offer conclusions and insights on how it’s going to affect FOI in Minnesota — in a good way.

At least, digging for government information doesn’t get any more difficult in Minnesota!

Freedom of Information Day in Minnesota will be celebrated up here on March 23. The John R. Finnegan Award will be presented and awarding-winning columnist Amy Goodman will speak. The ceremony is at 4 p.m. at the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis (in Pohlad Hall). Goodman’s appearance is sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCogi).

 Proposed changes in the Minnesota Freedom of Information Act are before the Legislature

In Minnesota, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is called the Data Practices Act and it is administered by a state agency called the Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD). In January, the organizations that are concerned about the individual’s rights to secure government information got a little nervous when IPAD announced that they were supporting a legislative proposal to amend our current law.

The established procedure up here for securing information from state government isn’t an easy one. It can sometimes take months and for an individual, with no staff resources, it can sometimes severely test one’s patience and mental toughness. So, I, as merely an interested individual who recognizes the vital importance of freedom of information to the whole democratic process, began watching the procedure closely and I nervously awaited IPAD’s initial drafts of the legislation. So did the major non-profit organizations and foundations that are concerned with this vital part of the democratic system.

Hats off to IPAD for making the procedure of following this legislative revision very easy! They provided regular updates to “stake holders” about what was happening and, very early, they made the suggested revisions available. They also held public workshops that allowed organizations and individuals to provide in-put. IPAD’s major concern was to hold the line on the cost of providing such information to the curious public. Budget concerns have been emphasized in Minnesota, as they have nearly everywhere, by the weaknesses in the economy.

Most think the IPAD revisions are going to work and will make the process of securing information quite a bit easier. Taking into account the current technology, the process of securing information will now be able to take advantage of on-line services. In other words, we’ll be able to get the information we seek on-line and/or in PDF formats. And, there will not be any of the expensive, and sometimes prohibitive, copying and production charges paid for “paper” copies when, instead, we secure that information on-line. That’s all the current legislative revisions amount to.

If you want to take a look at the law as it currently reads and the text of the revisions they can be found here (underlined items are the revisions).

The bill has not yet been passed. It is currently in the hearing process and will likely be voted on soon.

To make things easier for you, below is the text of the brief changes, all of which will be tacked on to the end of the current law…

(continuation of Section 1 of current law)… The responsible authority or designee of a government entity may comply with a request for inspection or copies of public government data, in whole or in part, by providing a link or links to a specific Web site that contains the requested data online. A government entity may only use this paragraph to comply with a request to inspect and/or copy government data if all of the following conditions are met: data are classified as public;

(2) data already exist online or are placed online immediately or within ten business days of the request;

(3) data are on a currently available and online public Web site;

(4) the responsible authority or designee provides links and instructions to each individual requester so that the requested data are easily accessible;

(5) other data not provided according to this paragraph and the government entity’s response time to the data request are consistent with the requirements of sections 13.03 and 13.04; and

(6) no fee is charged for access to the data online.

(h) Upon request, a government entity that complies with a data request according to paragraph

(g) must inform the data requester if the online data are maintained in another electronic format and provide reasonable access to the alternative electronic

3.17 format through e-mail or another electronic delivery method. No fee may be charged for

3.18 providing the data in an alternative electronic format under this paragraph.

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