Today in OpenGov: Surprise!


In today's edition, Congress has a plan to end surprise hospital bills, California's insurance commissioner has a rent problem, ICE's online detainee locator has some technical issues, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • Congress wants to kill off huge, surprise medical bills. These lobbyists have a different idea. "Congress is trying to fix one of the most glaring market failures of the American health care system, but a high-powered fight between wealthy industry groups is threatening to kill any changes and leave patients vulnerable to massive surprise medical bills. Lawmakers want to prevent doctors and other specialists from charging backbreaking fees to desperate patients who have no capacity to negotiate or refuse care. But the main proposed fix has caused a massive lobbying backlash from doctors and hospitals working to kill the bill despite support from insurance companies and consumer advocates. Now fears are growing that the PR and lobbying battle could sink the unsteady bipartisan consensus and leave patients exposed." (BuzzFeed)
  • Recently departed FEC vice chair Matthew Petersen is joining a law firm known for its work to hide dark money donors. "Ex-@FEC vice chair Matthew Petersen—whose departure effectively thwarts any FEC enforcement action going into 2020 elections—is joining Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, a political law firm known for creative legal maneuvers hiding 'dark money' donors." (Anna Massoglia via Election Law Blog)
  • Right now it's pretty much impossible to sue a cruise line for physical or emotional damage. These lobbyists want to keep it that way. "For families whose loved ones suffer an accident on ships sailing the high seas, it isn’t an option to sue cruise lines for physical or emotional losses, even when the companies are at fault. The “Hammers’ Law,” sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), aims to challenge the status quo. Named after two victims who lost their lives to a fire on a Peruvian river cruise in 2016, the bill would expand the compensation families can pursue from cruise lines in cases of on-board accidents…The bill would amend the near-century-old Death on the High Seas Act, which was designed to give the relatives of deceased seamen the right to remedy. Under the current law, families may only claim compensation for losses that are of precise monetary value except in cases of an aviation accident…The cruise industry trade group, whose PAC attracted large donations from major cruise line employees, has been active in arranging fly-ins to connect company executives and politicians at its annual Congressional Cruise Caucus." (Open Secrets)
  • The new NSA cyber chief wants to share threat information earlier and more often. "The chief of the National Security Agency’s cyber office wants to speed up the information sharing channels between her notoriously tight-lipped organization and its partners in the government and private sector. By pushing out intelligence earlier and faster, NSA could help its partners get ahead of digital threats instead of playing clean-up after they fall victim, said Anne Neuberger, who was recently tapped to lead the agency’s new Cybersecurity Directorate. The office is set to officially open its doors on Oct. 1." (NextGov)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • Why is California's insurance commissioner having taxpayers pick up the bill for his second residence? "California’s state insurance commissioner has stuck taxpayers with thousands of dollars in bills to cover the cost of renting an apartment in Sacramento while he maintains his primary residence in Los Angeles — a break from other statewide elected officials that is alarming ethics watchdogs. The revelation could add another headache for Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who is already under scrutiny for his campaign fundraising and perceived coziness with the insurance industry." (POLITICO)
  • Gainesville, Florida's email transparency program isn't going quite as planned. "Mayor Lauren Poe and other city officials in this college town spent part of their day on July 18 exchanging emails about proposed development projects, replying to resident complaints, discussing changes to local laws and more. Anyone with an Internet connection could follow along. The city posts their emails online. Then they faced an angry crowd at a city commission meeting, many of whom were upset about the email system. Across the city, journalists and public information watchdogs were crying foul over stretches of emails that never showed up online. Residents were reduced to tears by some of the ones that did show up and exposed an exchange they thought would be private. Some city officials had started trying to find a way to work around the system, creating even more frustration." (Government Technology)
  • This new white paper from NFOIC looks at online public records compliance in US cities. "The National Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to announce the publication of its latest white paper, Portal to Compliance: A Qualitative Analysis of Online Public Record Request Services in Major U.S. Cities. The paper examines the varying capabilities of online portals hosted by government agencies, as well as solutions provider capabilities, pricing, administrative practices and what makes portals effective and efficient. While technology is increasingly integral to providing records to the public, people processes are still a critical component to success." (NFOIC)


Underlying image via Wikimedia Commons.
  • An ICE system set up to locate detained immigrants online is plagued by problems. "As the Trump administration ramps up arrests of undocumented immigrants, the number of individuals incarcerated on immigration charges has increased nearly 40 percent since 2016, to a record-high daily average of more than 54,000. But even as the need to keep tabs on those being held in the system has never been greater, attorneys and advocates say a basic part of the detention architecture — an online resource used to locate incarcerated immigrants — isn’t up to the task. The Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS), run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a vital lifeline for detained immigrants and their families. When it functions well, it’s often the best way to find where immigrants detained for immigration matters — those facing deportation for various violations or challenging decisions by immigration authorities — are being held. But the system is slow to update, and its basic structure leaves it vulnerable to data entry mishaps and other technical glitches, attorneys and others who spoke with the Web Integrity Project (WIP) say." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • President Trump's move to keep national parks open during the last government shutdown was illegal according to new GAO report. "The Trump administration violated federal laws when it tapped entrance fees to keep the nation's national parks open during the 35-day shutdown earlier this year, according to a legal opinion from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. GAO said the Interior Department moved money between accounts without authorization from Congress, in violation of federal law." (POLITICO)
  • Last week President Trump posted a classified satellite image on Twitter. Turns out he has the power to do so. "There are still few details about how the image made its way to Trump's Twitter account. The president received his daily intelligence briefing at 11:30 a.m. ET, about two hours before the tweet…A flash visible in the center of the image suggests Trump or someone else took a photo of the original image — which Hanham says might have been the intelligence briefing slide…Such a disclosure of classified information by anyone but the president would end in jail time, says Bruce Klingner, a former CIA officer now at the conservative Heritage Foundation…But in the world of classified secrets, the president of the United States has absolute power." (NPR)


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