Editor's note: This morning marks the last edition of Today in OpenGov for 2018. We wish all of our readers a happy and healthy holiday season and a bright New Year. We'll be back on January 7th to keep you informed on all of the latest open government and transparency news in 2019.
In today's edition, Congress passes important open data legislation, a trial over the Census citizenship question will move forward, New York lags on voting rights, the United States is more dangerous than ever for journalists, and more.
- Congress passes the OPEN Government Data Act. Yesterday, the Senate passed H.R. 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017, which was previously passed by the House last month. The bill also includes the full text of the OPEN Government Data Act. Sunlight has supported the OPEN Government Data Act since its inception and are thrilled to see this important data transparency effort on the verge of becoming law. Senator Brian Schatz, one of the bills authors, shared the good news on Twitter.
- The incoming Chairman of the House Oversight Committee wants the White House to stop ignoring its requests for information. "The Democrat who’ll become chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday set a Jan. 11 deadline for the White House and executive agencies to respond to previously ignored requests for documents and information, another signal of the heightened scrutiny that President Donald Trump’s administration will face next year. Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings is flexing the new power Democrats will gain when they take control of the House on Jan. 3 to collect responses to 51 separate requests for answers that Republicans declined to enforce while they ran the panel." (Bloomberg)
- For the third time, the Senate voted to block a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. "Senate Republicans blocked for the third time bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday. The bill, which was denied by voice vote, was brought forward by Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). It would ensure that the special counsel could only be fired for good cause by a senior Justice Department official and would give the special counsel the ability to ask for an expedited review of his or her firing." (POLITICO)
- The House Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint of wrongdoing against Rep. Raúl Grijalva related to 2015 settlement with staffer. "The House Ethics Committee has cleared Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of wrongdoing related to a $48,000 settlement paid to a female staffer in 2015. The Arizona Democrat settled with the former staffer in 2015 after she accused him of creating a hostile woxrk environment and being intoxicated and left Grijalva’s office after working there just three months. The House Ethics Committee letter, dated Dec. 14, says the committee was dismissing the complaint against Grijalva related to the payment." (Roll Call)
- President Trump's 2020 campaign appears to have funneled money through a shell company to ad buyers connected to illegal coordination with NRA. "The Trump campaign funneled money to ad buyers alleged to have facilitated illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA by routing funds through a secretive LLC that appears to be little more than a shell company, an investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics has found. While the Trump campaign stopped reporting payments to ad buyers alleged to have facilitated illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA after the 2016 election cycle, Trump’s 2020 campaign has continued to deploy the same individuals working for the firms at the center of the controversy through payments to Harris Sikes Media LLC — a low-profile limited-liability company operating with no website or public-facing facade whatsoever." (OpenSecrets)
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross twice falsely claimed that he had divested a stock holding without having done so. "U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross twice submitted sworn statements to ethics officials saying he had divested stock that he in fact still owned, a new document obtained by the Center for Public Integrity reveals. The disclosure, in a new filing by Ross, represents the latest in a series of inaccurate statements and omissions in Ross’ personal financial statements since President Donald Trump tapped him as Commerce secretary in late 2016." (Center for Public Integrity)
- Following death of 7 year old migrant in CBP custody, Trump administration pledges to notify Congress and media within 24 hours if it happens again. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection this week said that Congress and the media will be notified within 24 hours of any death that happens in custody following criticisms of the agency's delayed announcement of the death of a 7-year-old girl…Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, who was from Guatemala, died less than 48 hours after authorities took her and her father into custody. She died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 8, after she experienced exhaustion, dehydration and shock. The agency waited five days to acknowledge the death, leading to calls to review protocols and detention centers for migrants caught crossing the border illegally." (POLITICO)
- A federal judge rejected the latest Trump administration attempt to end a trial over the Census citizenship question. "A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request from the Trump administration to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its addition of a question regarding citizenship to the 2020 census. U.S. District Court Judge George J. Hazel’s ruling paves the way for a trial in January to determine if the question is constitutional." (The Hill)
states and cities
- Why are New York State's election laws so restrictive? "In 2016, when the governor of Ohio was asked why he had signed a bill to limit early voting, he had a simple retort: He pointed to another state that had no early voting at all. When North Carolina’s governor was sued for cutting early voting in his own state, his lawyers cited that same state as rebuttal. In each case, the state in question was New York. Deep blue, liberal-ideal New York. Despite its reputation for sterling progressivism, New York has some of the most restrictive election laws in the nation." (New York Times)
- The Michigan House appears to have pulled back on a Senate plan that would have taken campaign finance powers from the incoming Secretary of State. "The Michigan House appears to have stopped a plan to strip responsibility for campaign finance enforcement from incoming Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Though GOP officials would not rule out taking up the issue in what's expected to be the last day of the lame-duck session Thursday, Republicans appear to have retreated on at least one piece of what Democrats have decried as a multi-pronged strategy to strip powers from Democrats about to assume the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state. The House Committee on Elections and Ethics took up several campaign finance and elections bills at a meeting Wednesday, but Senate Bill 1252 — which would remove campaign finance enforcement responsibility from the secretary of state — was not among them." (Detroit Free Press)
- How to build a data driven solution to homelessness. "As the winter season nears, bringing with it the seasonal issue of overflowing homeless shelters, many cities face the reality that for yet another year they have not made a dent in the critical issue of homelessness. To the everyday urban citizen, the problem of homelessness may seem never-ending and never-changing. However, it is changing, and in most places it’s for the worse. Today, homelessness in New York City and Los Angeles has reached crisis levels. New York has 78 percent more people sleeping in shelters than 10 years ago. Los Angeles saw its numbers rise 20 percent in 2017…In order to build a true data-driven solution that can be utilized for solving the problem of homelessness, we must first build a methodology to understand, model, simulate and ultimately re-think where needed the ecosystem of solutions aimed at ameliorating homelessness in a city." (Data-Smart City Solutions)
- Code for America is seeking proposals for its 2019 summit. "In the civic tech community, Code for America’s annual summit is an important gathering to learn from and interact with the best and brightest in the world of government technology. This week, the San Francisco-based organization released its call for proposals for the 2019 summit, which is scheduled for May 29-31 in Oakland, California. Interested in pitching an idea or proposal for the 2019 summit? Code for America is looking for proposals that will" focus on problems around digital service delivery, disruptive technology, delivery with policy and technology, better outcomes for everyone. You can learn more about submitting a proposal here. (Route Fifty)
around the world
- For the first time, the United States is among the most dangerous places for journalists. "The U.S. was ranked one of the deadliest countries for journalists in 2018 for the first time in an annual report from Reporters Without Borders. The U.S. ranked sixth among the most lethal countries for journalists, behind Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen and India, in that order. Six journalists were killed in the U.S. this year." (The Hill)
- New EU rules on tax avoidance could lack protections for whistleblowers. "As if avoiding taxes were not enough, tax dodgers might soon escape the very rules designed to hold them accountable. The Council of the EU’s legal service has advised EU countries to exclude tax avoidance and evasion leaks from the protections granted to whistleblowers, according to an internal document seen by POLITICO." (POLITICO)
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