Today in OpenGov: A glimmer of recognition.


In today's edition, a major police body camera company pumps the breaks on facial recognition, the patrons behind congressional portraits remain opaque, bringing transparency to companies that support immigrant detention, and more. 

states and cities

  • Axon, a major police body camera manufacturer, won't sell facial recognition technology for the time being. "The largest manufacturer of police body cameras is rejecting the possibility of selling facial recognition technology – at least, for now. Axon, formerly known as Taser International, has worked with more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide, selling a suite of products that include body cameras and software…On Thursday, the company announced that it is heeding the recommendation of an independent ethics board which it created last year after acquiring two artificial intelligence companies." (NPR)
  • Florida's governor signed legislation to restrict the recently restored voting rights of ex-felons. "Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed into law on Friday significant restrictions to the recently restored voting rights of people with felony convictions, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the state hours later. The new law requires people with serious criminal histories to fully pay back fines and fees to the courts before they become eligible to vote. In some cases, those costs amount to thousands of dollars. The A.C.L.U. argued that the new limits would unconstitutionally price some people out of the ballot box and undermine the intent of Florida voters, who last November approved a measure to enfranchise up to 1.5 million former felons." (New York Times)
  • State level redistricting efforts are likely to become dark money targets in the wake of recent Supreme Court decision. "Redistricting for the next decade will be up to the states after the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal courts do not have the power to rule on partisan gerrymandering, the practice by which lawmakers draw maps that flagrantly benefit their own party. The decision will make the control of state legislatures a priority for both parties in 2020, as — in the majority of states — the state lawmakers in power draw the maps for congressional districts. The ruling could also increase calls for nonpartisan congressional redistricting commissions, which more than a dozen states have adopted in some form. But support for nonpartisan redistricting processes often falls along partisan lines. And in recent years, state-level ballot initiatives designed to create more independent redistricting processes have been the target of out-of-state cash, often from groups that do not disclose their donors." (OpenSecrets)
  • Portland, Oregon may allow teachers a say over the release of public records pertaining to them. "Portland Public Schools may allow teachers to delay the release of certain records for up to seven days, according to a new agreement the district has negotiated with its teachers union. When the district receives public records requests pertaining to a teacher, the agreement would give the employee seven days to object to the documents’ release, according to a draft of the document provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive." (Oregon Live via NFOIC)

washington watch

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the unveiling of his official portrait. Screengrab via Fox 10 Phoenix.
  • Congressional portraits are a longstanding tradition without much transparency. "The tradition of painting portraits of retiring House speakers and other prominent leaders from the chamber dates back to the mid-1800’s, but the idea really took off during the New Deal period. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Dealers wanted artists to be able to survive the Great Depression, so the federal government commissioned dozens of portraits of national and congressional leaders…In 1999 the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, a congressionally chartered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provided members of Congress another way to fund the portraits without taxpayer dollars. They’re now able to set up a committee through the historical society to raise money and make decisions surrounding the procurement of the portrait…Since the member’s portrait committee is funded through the non-profit institution, donations for the portraits, which cost between $20,000 and $80,000 each, aren’t subject to the same restrictions for contributing to elected officials under campaign finance laws." (Open Secrets)
  • A former executive at HUD's IG was indicted in a procurement fraud scheme. "A federal grand jury on Wednesday returned a seven-count indictment against a former assistant inspector general at the Housing and Urban Development Department, charging him with procurement fraud.  According to the 19-page indictment, Eghbal 'Eddie' Saffarinia 'steered significant government business to Company A and its business partners' at the same time he was receiving payments worth tens of thousands of dollars from the Virginia-based company’s chief executive." (Government Executive)
  • Embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter's lawyers don't want the fact that he spent campaign money on extramarital affairs to be part of his trial for illegally spending campaign money. "A married Republican member of Congress accused of illegally spending campaign contributions on vacations and booze for five women he was hooking up with — including lobbyists and his own staffer — said the evidence must be ignored so he can get a fair trial. California Rep. Duncan Hunter told a court Friday he was actually working when he spent campaign money on weekend getaways, date nights, golf outings, bar tabs, and Uber rides during the affairs." (BuzzFeed)


A Motel 6. Image credit: Rusty Clark. 
  • The companies that help support President Trump's immigration policies are coming under increased scrutiny, but transparency is elusive… "The Trump administration's immigration policies have drawn condemnation, but increasingly the criticism has also turned to a web of companies that are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry that runs detention facilities housing tens of thousands of migrants around the country. Businesses that supply goods and services to support those detention centers face increasing public and political scrutiny from investors, employees and activists…But at the same time, there's very little public information about which companies make money providing goods and services to detention centers, largely because government contracts are sprawling, Byzantine and require little public disclosure." (NPR)
  • …On that topic, Motel 6 will reportedly pay $10 million for sharing guest data with ICE. "Motel 6 has agreed to pay $10 million to settle claims with former guests targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for deportation because of their 'Latino-sounding names.' The deal is an amended settlement to resolve a case filed on behalf of unidentified victims of ICE interrogation and deportation after Motel 6 shared its guest lists with federal agents. Some of the 1,400 branches of the discount hotel chain allowed ICE agents to bang on doors during early morning hours to question and detain guests." (Bloomberg)
  • The House Ethics Committee is investigating this pro-Trump representative for threatening Michael Cohen on Twitter. "The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) for a February tweet in which he threatened to release embarrassing personal information about President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen. The panel revealed in a statement that it has opened a formal inquiry into Gaetz's comment based on a March 13 complaint from a fellow lawmaker, who is not identified. According to the panel, Gaetz blew off an initial review of the complaint on May 16, an extraordinary rebuke to his colleagues." (POLITICO)
  • This week's Trump administration conflicts include spending at Trump properties, Hatch act violations, and more. "This week, recently released spending documents show the Secret Service was charged more than $200,000 by President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., the House passed legislation that would prevent spending by some federal agencies at some Trump properties and Kellyanne Conway has been subpoenaed to provide testimony related to possible Hatch Act violations." (Sunlight Foundation)


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