Today in OpenGov: The Shutdown Shuts Down…For Now


In today's edition, the partial government shutdown is over…for now, the Iowa House denied credentials to a prominent blogger, the EU is closing in on a deal for whistleblower protections, K Street spending hit an 8 year high in 2018, and more. 

shutdown stories

The government is set to boot back up for at least the next three weeks. Image via Pixabay.The government is set to boot back up for at least the next three weeks. Image via Pixabay.
  •  President Trump signs deal to reopen federal government for three weeks. "President Trump agreed on Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations continued over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border, backing down after a monthlong standoff failed to force Democrats to give him billions of dollars for his long-promised wall. The president’s concession paved the way for the House and the Senate to both pass a stopgap spending bill by voice vote. Mr. Trump signed it on Friday night, restoring normal operations at a series of federal agencies until Feb. 15…Mr. Trump presented the agreement with congressional leaders as a victory anyway, and indicated in a speech in the Rose Garden that his cease-fire may only be temporary…" (New York Times)
  • The shutdown delayed more than 20 economically significant government data releases. "The U.S. government produces data—a lot of data, from figures about the economy to steel to crops to commodity trading. And the partial federal shutdown has slowed the flow of data to a trickle, thanks to the closure of various agencies." (Bloomberg)
  • Despite the shutdown, OSHA sparked controversy by moving forward with its rollback of a workplace injury reporting rule. "With much of the regulatory process crimped by the partial government shutdown, labor and consumer groups are crying foul on the Friday release of a controversial final rule on workplace injury reporting by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The rule is characterized by OSHA as designed to protect worker privacy by ending a May 2016 Obama administration requirement that large firms regularly report worker illnesses electronically." (Government Executive)

states and cities

George Washington/Facial Recognition. Image via the Project on Government Oversight.Image via the Project on Government Oversight.
  • The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the state's strong biometric privacy law. "Privacy advocates won a crucial court victory on Friday, as the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed a case that would have pared back a state law limiting the use of facial recognition and other biometrics. Passed in 2008, Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (or BIPA) requires affirmative consent for companies to collect biometric markers from their customers, including fingerprints and facial recognition models." (The Verge)
  • Despite reports of bias, Amazon continues to aggressively market its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. "Over the last two years, Amazon has aggressively marketed its facial recognition technology to police departments and federal agencies as a service to help law enforcement identify suspects more quickly. It has done so as another tech giant, Microsoft, has called on Congress to regulate the technology, arguing that it is too risky for companies to oversee on their own. Now a new study from researchers at the M.I.T. Media Lab has found that Amazon’s system, Rekognition, had much more difficulty in telling the gender of female faces and of darker-skinned faces in photos than similar services from IBM and Microsoft." (New York Times)
  • The Iowa House denies credentials to prominent blogger who has covered the Legislature for years. "The Republican-controlled Iowa House defended its decision Friday to deny press credentials to an influential liberal blogger who has covered the Legislature for years, a position that could invite legal action. Laura Belin, who operates the Bleeding Heartland blog, said the House chief clerk hasn’t cited any valid reason for the denial, which she suspects is tied to her critical coverage of Republican leaders and policies. Belin, who has reported on the Legislature since 2007, has appealed the decision and is considering legal action." (Associated Press)
  • Florida Secretary of State resigns just weeks after his appointment following release of blackface photos. "Thursday morning, Michael Ertel, appointed Secretary of State by Gov. Ron DeSantis weeks earlier, testified before a House committee about the several lawsuits filed over the 2018 election. By mid-afternoon, Ertel turned in his resignation, after photos emerged of him posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim in blackface at a private Halloween party 14 years ago, two months after 1,800 people were killed by the massive storm." (Tallahassee Democrat)

around the world

A steam whistle. Image via Pixabay.Image via Pixabay.
  • The EU is closing in on a deal to boost whistleblower protections across the bloc. "European Union states are poised to back new rules to boost protection for whistleblowers who expose fraud, tax evasion, data breaches and other misdeeds, EU sources told Reuters. The move follows criticism from transparency campaigners about the lack of EU protection for individuals who report such breaches, citing the prosecution of two whistleblowers who leaked information in 2012 about Luxembourg’s illegal tax deals with large corporations. Whistleblower protection is currently handled by national authorities in the 28 EU states, resulting in largely different treatment, with no laws at all in some countries." (Reuters)
  • Openly gay Brazilian lawmaker and critic of President Jair Bolsonaro resigns, citing death threats, slander. "Jean Wyllys, an openly gay Brazilian lawmaker who in the past has clashed with President Jair Bolsonaro, said he will give up his seat, citing death threats and slander targeting him…Wyllys, a rare champion of LGBT rights in Congress, spat at then-congressman Bolsonaro during the divisive 2016 vote that ousted President Dilma Rousseff. Ahead of last year’s elections, a bisexual city councilwoman from Wyllys’s socialist party was assassinated and Bolsonaro himself was stabbed while campaigning. Months after October’s vote, Brazilian politics and society remain deeply polarized. Wyllys had been living under police protection, he told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo." (Bloomberg)
  • As political tensions increase in Venezuela media faces censorship and online blackouts. "As the uncertainty around Venezuela's political situation continues, local and international human rights groups are reporting intermittent blocks to different social media platforms — including Twitter and Instagram — as well as instances of media censorship. Reports by VE Sin Filtro and Netblocks indicate that the blocks started on January 21 and intensified from January 23, 2019, when Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, invoked articles from the country's 1999 constitution to take presidential powers away from Nicolás Maduro, who has been in office since 2013.  (Global Voices)  
  • Lessons learned about social media and protest 8 years after Egypt's revolution. "Eight years ago on this day, Jan. 25, the world watched transfixed as protesters in Egypt poured into the streets and squares demanding change from the corrupt authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The event set off a snowball of subsequent protests and sit-ins, which culminated in Mubarak’s ouster 18 days later…Nearly a decade later, are we any wiser? Did Facebook and Twitter play any meaningful role in bringing down the Mubarak regime? In a recent study, we found that they did but that their importance was more limited than some of the breathless early coverage suggested." (Washington Post)

washington watch

The top ten lobbying firms in 2018 by income. Via Open Secrets.The top ten lobbying firms in 2018 by income. Via Open Secrets.
  • Lobbying spending hit an 8 year high in 2018. "After several straight years of modest spending, 2018 was a banner year for lobbying firms. Clients spent $3.42 billion on lobbying in 2018, the largest sum since the all-time peak in 2010, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics…Conservative groups grew their spending by 78 percent and liberal groups’ spending declined by 35 percent. Groups related to Savings and Loans (61 percent increase over 2017) and Marijuana (55 percent) underwent a massive jump in spending…Every firm in the top 10 has been around a long time with the exception of the Trump-tied Ballard Partners. The group took in more than $18 million last year despite being launched in 2017." (OpenSecrets)
  • Democratic candidate in as-yet-uncalled North Carolina House race has raised $500,000 since he withdrew his concession on December 6. "Since withdrawing his concession in North Carolina’s 9th District race, Democrat Dan McCready has raised more than $500,000 for a new election that isn’t even certain to happen.  McCready withdrew his concession on Dec. 6 after allegations of election fraud led the state elections board to delay certification of the results and The Associated Press to retract its call in favor of Republican Mark Harris, who had originally led by 905 votes." (Roll Call)
  • The new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health is a favorite of the pharmaceutical industry. "The Democratic rep who will lead the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in the new session of Congress has taken more money from the pharmaceuticals and health products industry over her career than any other member of the House. Rep. Anna Eshoo of California’s 18th Congressional District will chair the subcommittee after accepting more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from PACs and individuals affiliated with pharmaceutical and health products companies over the course of her career, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics." (Sludge)


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