Editor's note: We'll be off on Monday to celebrate Presidents' Day, but back on Tuesday with all the latest OpenGov news and notes.
In today's edition, we explain the government's responsibility to share online content in multiple languages, Amazon pulls its new New York City location following local pushback, President Trump won't shut the government down again, but will declare a national emergency in an effort to build his wall, and more.
- Explaining the federal government's responsibilities to provide online content in non-English languages. "An informal review by the Web Integrity Project has found that federal agencies have taken a huge range of approaches to meeting the needs of website users who lack English fluency. Prompted by federal regulations and more than forty years of jurisprudence on the issue, agencies seeking to accommodate limited English proficiency (LEP) users, as they’re known under federal law, offer everything from virtually duplicative websites in non-English languages to brief notes referring users to translation services. In other cases, agencies offer no language accommodations at all. Under a key executive order from 2000 that builds on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government and recipients of federal funds have an obligation to make their services available to the populations they serve, regardless of what languages those individuals speak." (Sunlight Foundation)
- How will rejecting corporate political cash impact 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls' chances? "The Democratic candidates are expected to push one another to show their commitment to getting big money out of politics, following the lead of Democrats who helped the party retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Trump's fellow Republicans in last year's congressional elections. Many Democrats have decried the influence of money from corporations and wealthy individuals on elections. But some strategists worry that the candidates could go too far and hamper the party's chances in the November 2020 general election by giving a financial edge to the Republicans." (US News)
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development's public records system went offline during the shutdown. It's still not back up. "The partial federal shutdown ended weeks ago, but one lingering effect turns out to be citizens’ ability to get public records from a government agency. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s public records management and tracking system has been offline since early January, when a contract to run it lapsed. Four Freedom of Information Act officers at HUD said the lack of a system has drastically slowed their ability to process requests and has presented challenges in tracking the dozens of them the agency receives each week." (ProPublica)
- Democrats are looking to change their voter data sharing regime ahead of the 2020 elections. "Political campaigns collect all kinds of information. Your address, of course, but also things like your age, your interests, if you have kids, your donation records. The more they know, they better they can target ads — so, say, a retired veteran in Oshkosh, Wis., doesn’t get the same message as a vegan freshman at New York University. For years, Republicans had an edge in gathering this kind of information. They had developed a platform that allowed them to share data among state parties, the national party, campaigns and outside groups like PACs. When Mr. Trump became the Republican nominee, the G.O.P. exchange was there to make up for his lack of political organization. Now, the Democrats are taking concrete steps toward establishing their own, similar organization." (New York Times)
- House ignores 72 hour rule as it moves spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. "Most House Democrats are giving their leadership a pass for breaking a chamber rule that requires bill text to be released 72 hours before a vote so they can quickly move a funding package before Friday’s deadline to avert another government shutdown." (Roll Call)
states and cities
- Texas' election chief apologizes over deeply flawed lists of supposed "noncitizen" voters with his confirmation up in the air. "Texas' embattled election chief has apologized over an inaccurate list of 95,000 people on the voter rolls flagged as possible non-U.S. citizens, and a Senate committee postponed a vote Thursday on his nomination — a signal his job could be in jeopardy. Secretary of State David Whitley had previously refused to acknowledge mistakes in the three weeks since his office gave election fraud prosecutors a voter list that included tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who were wrongly flagged ."(Bloomberg)
- Amazon pulls out of deal to bring "HQ2" to NYC amid growing pressure from public, state and local lawmakers. "Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from lawmakers, progressive activists and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives…The company made its decision late Wednesday, after growing increasingly concerned that the backlash in New York showed no sign of abating and was tarnishing its image beyond the city, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions inside the company." (New York Times)
- A former city employee in Atlanta is facing criminal charges over her efforts to delay a public records request. "In a first for Georgia, a City of Atlanta employee is facing criminal charges following an order to delay a local tv-station’s public records request. State Attorney General Chris Carr filed two criminal citations with the Fulton County State Court following an investigation into violations of the Georgia Open Records Act committed by Jenna Garland, press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The citations are the first of its kind in the state." (MuckRock)
- An Ohio state lawmaker will pay $20,000 to settle a lawsuit after he blocked a constituent on Facebook. "Ohio Sen. Joe Uecker will pay $20,000 as part of a settlement reached in a lawsuit filed after the senator blocked a constituent from posting on his official Facebook page. Uecker, a Republican from Miami Township in suburban Cincinnati, denied he violated Anthony Famby's constitutional free speech rights when he blocked him on Facebook following comments about Uecker's vote on an abortion bill. Under the agreement, Uecker does not admit guilt but will pay damages and attorney's fees totaling $20,000." (Cincinnati Enquirer)
- President Trump signs bill avoiding government shutdown, promises to declare a national emergency in an effort to build his border wall. "The White House’s announcement Thursday that President Trump would claim emergency powers to build his border wall without congressional approval was a way out of the political crisis he created over shutting down the government. But while the move means the country will avoid another protracted shutdown, legal specialists warned that the long-term costs to American democracy could be steep. As a matter of political reality, such a declaration permits Mr. Trump to keep the government open without losing face with his core supporters by surrendering to congressional Democrats on his signature issue. As a matter of legal reality, the proposal is likely to be bogged down in a court challenge, leaving any actual construction work based on emergency powers spending an uncertain and, at best, distant prospect." (New York Times)
- At least 33 former Trump officials have found ways to avoid their ethics pledge not to lobby… "In his first 10 days in office, Trump signed an executive order that required all his political hires to sign a pledge. On its face, it’s straightforward and ironclad: When Trump officials leave government employment, they agree not to lobby the agencies they worked in for five years. They also can’t lobby anyone in the White House or political appointees across federal agencies for the duration of the Trump administration. And they can’t perform “lobbying activities,” or things that would help other lobbyists…But loopholes, some of them sizable, abound. At least 33 former Trump officials have found ways around the pledge." (Government Executive)
- …Meanwhile, Trump's pick to head the Interior Department appears to have violated the ethics order in at least two ways. "In January 2017, President Donald Trump acted on one of his “drain the swamp” campaign pledges by signing Executive Order No. 13770, banning administration officials from leaving government and immediately lobbying their former colleagues and preventing former lobbyists who join his administration from working on issues related to their former clients. But the order is not being enforced, and just last week Trump nominated an administration official who appears to have violated at least two sections of the order to lead the Department of the Interior." (Sludge)
- The Trump Organization will give up on new hotels amid growing scrutiny, political pressure. "In the early months of the Trump administration, with the president no longer running his family business, his eldest sons embarked on a plan to roll out two new hotel lines in dozens of American cities…Now, in a striking reversal, the Trump Organization is no longer pursuing the signature initiative, according to company officials…The retrenchment comes as the company faces growing scrutiny from federal prosecutors and congressional investigators, and as a former employee, Michael D. Cohen, heads to prison for multiple crimes. With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, any new hotel deals could have provided investigative fodder for critics of the president." (New York Times)
around the world
- The EU's new deal on copyright is an attack on openness. "EU negotiators have struck a deal over copyright reform that is an ‘attack on openness’, the new chief executive of Open Knowledge International has warned. Catherine Stihler, a former MEP and vice-chair of the European Parliament’s consumer protection committee, said the changes will restrict internet freedoms for millions of users. The agreement will require platforms such as Youtube, Twitter or Google News to take down user-generated content that could breach intellectual property and install filters to prevent people from uploading copyrighted material. That means memes, GIFs and music remixes may be taken down because the copyright does not belong to the uploader. It could also restrict the sharing of vital research and facts, allowing ‘fake news’ to spread." (Open Knowledge)
- Australia revoked a Chinese tycoon's citizenship over concern around political interference in domestic politics. "The news concerning Chinese tycoon Huang Xiangmo's revoked Australian citizenship has shaken the Chinese overseas and diasporic communities last week. Huang is now settled in Hong Kong and told the media that the ban from entering the country was 'grotesquely unfair' and 'based on unfounded speculations that are prejudiced and groundless'. However, the Australian government and many researchers feel that Huang was unfairly using political ties to push Chinese Communist Party interests within the country." (Global Voices)
- Transparency groups express concern over the UK's delay of its next Open Government Partnership action plan amid Brexit. "Leading civil society organisations working in open government (1) have written to the UK government outlining their ‘deep concern’, after ministers missed the deadline for publishing commitments on transparency. As part of the UK government’s role in the Open Government Partnership – which involves 79 countries across the world – ministers are required to publish commitments on improving transparency, accountability and participation every two years. Westminster’s new action plan was due to be published in December 2018. But the government are yet to publish their new plan, amid fears that it has been buried by Brexit." (UK Open Government Civil Society Network)
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