Monday, January 31, 2011

Legislative Update 2

Legacy Amendment
The Legislature continued with its oversight functions last week by having hearings on the Legacy Amendment monies and programs in the House, Legacy Funding Division, chaired by Rep. Dean Urdahl.  I spoke with the Chairman who indicated he is working to bring improved transparency and accountability to the Legacy monies by working on possible legislation.  See posting for more background.

Environmental Reform
As posted previously, there is legislation moving through the process that would allow the proposer of development or a project such as business for example, to prepare a draft environmental impact statement(EIS) without government involvement which is different than current process.

This has led to accountability and public access issues.  See previous posting on this issue.  An amendment was adopted to HF 1, Section 1 and 8, to try to rectify this issue.  There are still concerns that the public would not have access to public data because there is no clarity as to how the the public would get access to the supporting and underlying data of the EIS.  The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce as of this posting is working on this issue.

There will be a hearing on the Senate companion, SF 42, at 3:00pm, Tuesday, February 1, in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  With possible hearing on Thursday, February 3, 1:00pm in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Law Enforcement Intelligence Gathering and Databases
Tomorrow will be the due date for the report of the named SF2575 Work group to be presented to the Legislature.  The work group dealt with issues of criminal intelligence, databases, and civil liberties, privacy, and accountability.  I have posted previously on this effort.  The report will be available from the Legislative Reference Library, but also on the Work Group Website in the near future.

Personal Note
In the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, tomorrow,  February 1, at 1:00pm, there will be testimony and presentations by Mark Anfinson, Minnesota Newspapers Association; Don Gemberling, former Director of the division of Administration that deals with Data Practices and Information Policy, current Director, Laurie Beyer-Kropuenske, and Rich Neumeister on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Failed Promise of the Legacy Amendment.

In 2008, the Legacy Constitutional Amendment was placed on the ballot by the Legislature to bring the voters of Minnesota closer to the democratic process by allowing them to vote on something that would affect their pocketbooks and their communities.  The majority of Minnesotans said yes.

It was promised that if Minnesotans supported the Amendment they would be able to participate in the implementation of the Amendment by having information readily accessible to them to see where their money is going and to whom, to play oversight.  Something rarely seen to have people participate in direct democracy and then to directly follow the implementation of what they voted on.

The promise has fallen short.

There seems to have taken hold an obscurity of information on the Legacy monies.  Agencies such as Department of Natural Resources, Department of Administration, Metropolitan Council, and some others who administer the funds to various entities throughout the state do not mention their role in Legacy on their main web page.  There is very little information on agency sites as to who has been rejected for various programs.  Listing of award winners, such as the Minnesota States Arts Board does, but no data as to what the money specifically went for.

There is no mention, for example, the background of the people who sit on the Historic Resources Advisory Committee who help make recommendations where Minnesota Historical Society Legacy monies go.  This is also true for other entities.

I have highlighted some examples.  There are others, but that is for another time.  There is hope that the promise can be achieved, but it will take a lot of work by us.

The words, accountability and transparency have to be put in action.  Only then, will the people of Minnesota truly have vigilant oversight of the Legacy Amendment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Legislative Update.

During the legislative session it is my intention to post a quick point or two on bills I believe could have an impact on our privacy, civil liberties, and open government.  It is not an all inclusive list.  It will be called Legislative Update.

I will be doing longer postings on specific legislation as the session proceeds.  The first entry of bills are as follows:

HF 1/SF 2 Environmental Reform.
Section 7 of bill has issues of public access and accountability.  If draft environmental impact statement(EIS) is done by proposer what guarantee will there be that the public will have access to the data that was used to support and document the EIS.  See previous posting.  Amendment to address issue is being worked on.

HF 174 Department of Revenue/ Profiling of people for auditing.
Using computer software to enhance profiling people who may not be in compliance with tax laws.  Issues such as data mining.  What third party databases would Revenue use?  Will all tax paying Minnesotans be run through this new set up?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Environmental Reform/ Less Oversight and Accountability?

There is discussion at the Legislature on the role of government in the environmental review process and how it can be streamlined.  Everyone wants reform, but the question is how it is done and what unintended consequences could there be.

One of those unintended consequences that may happen is less oversight, accountability, and transparency.

House File 1 and 20 go hand in hand and have to be read together to see what the broad policy change being proposed is. The proposals have language that will allow for the environmental impact statement(EIS) to be done by a third party.  In HF 1, the draft EIS could be done by the proposer of the project that triggers the EIS process.  This could be an unintended consequence.

Let's say a private entity wants to expand in the community.  Under the proposal, the private entity could do the EIS, give the EIS report to the government for review.  A member of the public or a group wants to see how the report came to its conclusions. The public parties want to see the underlying data and supporting information of the EIS.  The government does not have the supporting information, the private party has it.  Therefore the information is not public and not available to the people.

The public could not see the supporting documentation and how the EIS was done, processed, and how the document came to its conclusions.

Currently, it seems that a public entity does the EIS either itself or contracts out to someone to do it, but either way the data is government data.  In most instances, if not all, the government will have the supporting and underlying data.  Most of that data is public with very few exceptions.

It is important our state agencies and government entities are accountable to the people.  The legislation should be very clear that all information and data in the EIS process will remain as it has been available and accessible to the public.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Capitol Security, Access, and the People.

My eighth grade civics class taught me that our government is open and accessible to the people.  You can meet with your elected officials and discuss the issues.  Since age 15, I have been doing just that.

With the recent tragedy in Arizona there is a review taking place about openness at our State Capitol.  Can new security measures at the Capitol have an impact on the ability of people to be able to have access and communicate with elected officials?  The answer is yes.

Lobbying as a non paid person at the State House for decades I know what access to policymakers is and the difference it can make for legislative policy.

I have seen where reception areas have been set up to greet people and serve as waiting areas until the elected official is ready to greet them, but the well known lobbyist does not wait because the reception person knows who he or she is.  I am aware of people who park their cars on the north side of the Capitol on Sherburne Ave. to come to a hearing on a cold day or to see their representative, but have to go all way around to the south side to get in.  The registered lobbyist more than likely has a paid pass to allow them to get into any entry door at the Capitol.

The traditional lobbyist has access in many different venues and ways inside and outside the Capitol.  For the citizen, the Capitol can be the only place to meet the legislators and let their views be known.

It is important that the security group which was recently reactivated to review security be guided with a principle or two I learned from that civics's class.

Treat everyone the same for access to the Capitol.  And two, allow for public participation and feedback on what the people think about access to their house, the "People's House."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Expectation of Legislation That Impacts our Rights and Liberties.

Each session I anticipate proposals that can and will have an impact on our civil liberties, privacy, and open government rights.  Some of those that may be introduced as bills are as follows:

1. Domestic Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance.
This bill would allow law enforcement to keep secret information on individuals who police think may commit a crime.  In proposals I have seen the data would be called criminal intelligence.  The threshold used to get into the intelligence file is reasonable suspicion.  There has been and will be sharp and direct discussion on this proposal.  Should government be collecting information on people who are law-biding in their secret files?  How are First Amendment activities protected from surveillance?  What information that has been public for decades in Minnesota no longer will be?  Who will the information be shared with?  Many policy questions with devil being in the details

There had been a bill introduced 2 years ago in the Legislature.  It did not go anywhere.  Last year because of the GangNet database issue the Legislature created a work group to come up with recommendations.  Their report is due out shortly.  Information about the work group is on the BCA website.

With my years of lobbying and advocating on privacy and open government this piece of legislation in whatever form is introduced in my judgement if not done right could have the most serious ramifications for our states culture on privacy and open government and the civil liberties of Minnesotans.

2. Familial DNA
In the Star Tribune it was reported that Sheriff Stanek was interested to have a law to allow the use of familial DNA.

What it basically is as follows:  At a crime scene a dna sample is collected.  The sample then is run through the dna database to see if a match can be made to an individual.  Sometimes the match can be close to an individual's dna in the databank, but not enough as per dna protocols for certainty. Suspicion could then be on the close relatives because another biological family member such as a son or non identical twin brother would very much nearly have the same dna makeup.

There are civil liberty and privacy concerns with the proposal.  Very few states have done such dna searches.  California being one of those few have rigorous guidelines and focus on specific situations.

The proposal poses Fourth Amendment questions.  Will an attitude be developed that there is guilt by your genes?  Will family members that are not in the states or local law enforcement DNA databases be confronted to give a sample posing due process questions.  Would a partial dna match from a father be enough for a probable cause search warrant to ask for dna samples from brothers, sons, and other close relatives.

There are two articles I would like to suggest. and 
Update 1/15/11  A report was done by the Information Policy Analysis Division(Minnesota Admin) on genetic privacy and there are some references to familial DNA.  Here is a link to that report.

Personal Note
I am new to the self publishing world of the internet.  Less than 6 months ago I would have been called a modern day luddite.  No internet connection, etc.  I have been encouraged and helped by many people to get me this far and I thank them.

It is my intention for the next five months while the legislature is in session to comment and give perspective on legislation that has impact on our privacy, civil liberties, and open government.

To paraphrase, Bettie Davis, from the movie "All About Eve", Fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reform and Streamline: What does it mean?

The new legislature has been in for a week and the bills are starting to be introduced.  By the end of the biennial session there will be thousands of proposals before the lawmakers.

A number of those proposals will be presented to "reform" or "streamline" a government agency or department and their activities.  What does that mean?

Reform and streamline are the buzz words from both political parties for emphasis in some legislation.  New Senate and House leaders have proposed to "streamline" the permit processes for the business environment, for example. Under the name of "reform" it has been discussed to do away with print notices of public meetings and government activities in newspapers and do it only on the internet. These are just a couple of the many ideas that that the legislature will deal with.

To understand the consequences and implications of "reform/streamline" named bills, the Chief Author of the bill needs to be direct and upfront in their presentations in the committee hearing as to what their bill will do and what the problem the legislation is trying to fix.

Many of our processes, regulations, and laws have been put in place to protect people's rights, health, and safety.  As legislation comes forward to be change for the better or for government to be more efficient there needs to be evidence and documentation that our health, safety, and rights are not compromised.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Five Things the Legislature and Governor Can Do For Open Government.

I walked the halls of the Capitol today. I can already feel the political realignment there.  The reconstitution of politics at the Capitol is a once in a generation occasion, but more than that a historic opportunity to look with new eyes at issues of accountability, openness, and transparency of government to the people of Minnesota.

There are five things I would like to suggest to the Legislature and the Governor.

1. The Legislature should be under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  What this change would do is make records held by the legislature clearly public and put it on the same level as the executive branch.  For example, citizens would be able to see by law who influences legislation by getting access to documents, memos, and supporting documentation.

2. The Minnesota Historical Society and some entities created by government should come under open government laws.  For example, the Minnesota Historical Society is exempted from the Data Practices Act.  In speaking with an employee of the Society the person indicated they have a policy that mirrors aspects of open records law. There is a difference though with an institution policy and law.

3. The new Governor should clearly make a commitment to follow the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Official Records Act. The previous administration  had  interpreted these laws in a way that closed off access to clearly public records because they had been destroyed. What happened if a person was interested to know how the Governor came to a decision?  The individual would not get documents and communication, ie e-mails, that led to the decision.  The people of Minnesota would not have access as to how the Governor arrived at his decision  The Governor's office sets the example for the rest of the executive branch.

4. The Legislature should review as to whether or not there is enough openness, transparency, and accountability in the Minnesota Judicial System to its citizens.  For example, I had an interest to attend the Judges meeting in my Judicial District which meets often to discuss the "administration of justice."  I have been told I cannot attend the meetings even though it is all elected officials who are there.  Another area that could be reviewed is what information is public when a lawyer is disciplined or when they get a warning letter.  It seems that information about a lawyer is less transparent than other kinds of licensing. The Legislature exempted the Judicial branch from the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act in 1988.

5. The Legislature should consider forming an independent office to enforce information policy laws.  Currently, the Department of Administration through IPAD does advisory opinions and education.  A number of states such as New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and others have an office or board that is independent and provides enforcement, advisory opinions, and education on privacy and open government issues as it relates to government operations.