Sunday, March 27, 2011

Legislation that can compromise or be improved on in regards to accountability, privacy, and transparency

As the session draws to a close in the next eight weeks there will be ups and downs with Omnibus budget bills and policy bills as they rush towards deadlines.  The following are concerns, issues, and questions I see involving some of the bills that have been introduced.  This list is not all inclusive, there are other bills I will comment on as I review them.

HF162. Has impact on ability of people to get access to information, perennial issue at Legislature.  Has Senate companion.  Subject is Internet publishing of public notices rather than newspaper.
HF343. Privacy and due process concerns in giving subpoena power to police agency, unusual granting of state power. Has Senate companion.
HF366 Access to health records.  Privacy and consent issues.  Has Senate companion.

HF457  Various allowances for school districts to do Internet publishing rather than in newspapers.  Accountability and access to information issues.
HF462  Nurse Compact.  Issues of data sharing and due process.  Has Senate companion
HF601 Appraisal data.  Issue of when disclosure should be made.  Has Senate companion.

HF895  Bill pushed by MN Insurance Federation.  Amends Insurance Privacy Act.  Have concerns of intent of bill.  Do not want to lose privacy, consent, and accountability concepts in current law.  Senate companion has been amended because of concern.
HF981 Familial DNA.  Bill has had hearing and still in Committee.  No action forward at this time.  Accountability, presumption of innocence, and privacy, among many issues.  No Senate companion.
HF1010  Appropriations bill for environment. 1st engrossment.  Have public accountability and transparency concerns in regards to LCMR being able to waive application of law to in how data is available to the public among other questions,  p. 70.19 to 71.23.  Specific language I am concerned about is p.71.21 to 71.23.

HF1060  MNDOT's Data Practices bill.  Historically the Department wants to make data not public or non public.  Their bills have controversial in the past.  Have not evaluated the bill yet.
HF1061  Legacy Program transparency bill.  Makes uniform template as to what should be reported to LCC web site.  Bill could go much further requiring background data on the people who sit on groups and committees who decide where the monies go that are administered by agencies, require administrating agencies to place on their first page of website their legacy involvement, among other initiatives.  Good bill, but could be improved upon to ensure that people know who's who and what's what.  No Senate companion.
HF1130  Senate companion had hearing.  Issues of liability when information is shared.  Bill has broad applications, then intent of bill.  Accountability of disclosures are concerns among others.

HF1202  Subdivision 1, the standard or criteria of when the committee involves itself with family is lowered.  What does this do?  Will more families be involved in the counseling activities of this group?
HF1204  Health exchange program.  There have been different versions over the past couple of years.  Important to be reviewed for privacy and accountability concerns and issues.
SF598  DNA collection of arrested.  Major constitutional and privacy issues.  No House companion.

SF910  Exempts Metro Transit drivers from Offenders Rehabilitation Act.  Issues of rehabilitation for offenders and opportunities of employment
SF1017  Have concerns about subdivision 1 where it takes out the following, "and any other law".  What does that do?  What are the other laws that this action may have impact on?
SF1053 Nurse background check bill.  Issues of due process and access to information.  Issue of rehabilitation.  House has companion.

In three budget bills there are issues and concerns in regards to privacy, accountability, and open government also.  Those bills are State Government, HHS, and Education. .

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trials and Tribulations of a People Lobbyist

This week was a very busy for me at the Minnesota State Legislature.  As readers of this blog know I like going to the Capitol to help the policymakers do good legislation.  This week was the beginning of the busy time which will last up to adjournment in May.

First out of the box for the week was a bill sponsored by the Minnesota Private College Council.  This bill raised a number of concerns for me as to why immunity of liability should be given to private colleges when they share personal educational data with the state.  A key concept for me is that the private college has due diligence and responsibility when data is shared to make sure that the data is secured from breaches and unlawful disclosure  Having no liability I think may make the private entity not responsible.  The bill proposes that the private colleges would not have liability if the data they shared with the government was breached or disclosed improperly by the government.

The bill was presented publicly to offer liability protection to private colleges because of a law that is requiring higher ed institutions to give personal data to the state for studies.  When I read the bill I noticed what I was told is not what the bill does.  Does this happen at the Legislature?  It sure does.

What the bill also does is give the state higher ed facilities liability protection and allows much wider sharing of personal information on students other than the specific program told to me by private colleges without liability.

Currently, the bill is going through the committee process.

Another bill that caught my attention was HF 1087.  This bill is an initiative of the Minnesota Board of Nursing which makes it mandatory for the Board of Nursing to do background checks on all applicants for nurse licensure and in the future current nurses.  When I saw the bill introduced I did what I generally do is go talk to the Chief Author.  I scheduled a time to meet with her.  Concerns I had with the bill are several from access to information for the person who is the subject, to proper due process and fairness, and what is the rationale for permanently banning people and making it hard for people to be nurses if they have rehabilitated themselves.  There are also other issues.

But what got me into quick action over the past twenty four hours was when I saw HF 1087 in the House Health and Human Services Omnibus bill.  I realized that it did not have a public hearing.  A public hearing is an important part of process for the public to way in on bills.  I also knew by the language that the proposal changed in a dramatic fashion, one that only new applicants would have background checks, but current nurses would not have to go through background process.  A double tier for the nursing profession.

I met with the Chief Author of the bill who was open to my concerns and others who had talked with him.  He pulled the language from the bill.  The bill more than likely will go through the hearing process.  Issues are still outstanding as I have outlined above.

As I stated in a previous post, to paraphrase Bette Davis,  Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride, as the legislative session goes towards adjournment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The cops got DNA from your brother, but are you the suspect ?

The Minnesota House of Representatives is moving forward in a major expansion on the use of DNA with a bill hearing today.  The bill calls for no public input of people, defense attorneys, and civil libertarians in developing the protocols and procedures that are a part of the familial DNA bill.

A main concept of familial DNA investigation is that siblings and closely related people share more genetic material than people that are not related. The action begins by bringing forth a list of possible relatives of the owner of the DNA picked up at a crime scene by executing a DNA search to look for partial matches between the crime scene profile and the offender profile in the DNA data bank at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.  This would lead to place suspicions on siblings, fathers, sons, and family members who are related to the offender based on a partial match.

In the bill, the Department of Public Safety is directed to develop the rules, but they are exempted from State Statute Chapter 14.  What does that mean?  It means several things, one, the rules will not be part of the process which allows input from the public and to be weighed by a neutral party if necessary.  Secondly, it allows law enforcement to make the rules and protocols for themselves.

The rules would outline as one of its objective how the name would be released by Public Safety to the police agency who wants it so then they could check out the family relations.  The rules may also have additional safeguards and process to guide law enforcement with force of law.

Law enforcement is arguing that they should be allowed to use the new technique of familial DNA search to solve crime.  I agree, but I believe it should not be at the expense of the constitutional right to search and seizure, due process, presumption of innocence, and privacy.

The use of familial DNA and the discussion of it is "complex" per Representative Cornish, sponsor of the bill.  I agree with Mr. Cornish the issue is complex.  If the bill passes as is I contend there is no accountability and it compromises our civil liberties.               

See previous post on this issue.  Today's post was revised to state there was a public hearing on the bill today and to clarify the first paragraph.                       

Monday, March 14, 2011

New teacher evaluative process at Legislature: Should names and their ranking be public?

Today there was a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on SF 636. The emphasis of the bill is to modify teacher licensure, teacher evaluation, and performance.  In the bill there is privacy/public accountability issue.

Should teachers names be public and what their rating is per the evaluative process proposed in the bill?

It is not clear in the bill if the data would be public or private per current law. The debate should happen as the bill goes forward or else there can be misunderstanding with the intent of the legislature.

Recent events in New York City as to whether teacher names and their evaluative score should be public has gone to Court.  The issue has also been apart of discussion in other parts of the country.  Even a web site is taken comments from different perspectives on the issue.

There is a strong feeling for accountability and transparency in the K-12 system.  It is important to have a clear understanding of what data will be collected, who has access to it, and how it is reported or used.

Information is power and the responsibility of using the data should be a balanced approach.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Have credit card, checkbook, or cash ready when you see Minnesota House on the web.

I knew the Minnesota House of Representatives were meeting late afternoon today,  I decided being new to the web and having a computer I wanted see session live.  I search through the House Web page to make sure how to do it, I choose the link for possible live action of our elected officials debating the issue of the days, the give and take, the clashing of ideas.

What did I come upon?

A pitch sponsored by the House Public Information Services asking me to donate money to help defray distribution costs of me being able to see our elected officials in action and to also help pay for the web cam stream.

I am scratching my head on this one.  I am being asked to donate money to have the privilege to see our elected officials doing the people's work.  Granted I know our state is on hard times.  But to have the Minnesota House of Representatives solicit the public for money so we can see them do their elected duties is ridiculous.

It is the responsibility of the House of Representatives to give opportunities for the public to learn about the institution, to bring the act of legislative making as close to the people as they can. The House Public Information Services does a fantastic job at doing this through Session Weekly, web cam casts, and other actions.

The House Public Information Services should be funded appropriately, it is an important part of the Minnesota House of Representatives to make sure the institution and the elected members remain accountable, transparent, and open to the people.

By the way does the Minnesota Senate do the same thing?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will Itasca sell transparency down the river?

In today's Star Tribune there was an article stating that the Itasca Project is going to spin off a new group to deal with regional economic development.  The article also announced who was going to be the head person.

But from my view what was interesting about the article is the statement of the action of "raising millions of dollars from municipalities and local companies for a new regional development group."  Money contributed by the public/government to a private group.  How will the public know that the contributions made to this new group will be in its best interest?  Will there be accountability and transparency with the new group and its efforts?

The public has a fundamental right to take stock how public monies are spent and of the performance of any group that receives public funds.  It seems this private group could take on a function like an economic development agency of a governmental unit.  If that is the case it it important that the public are in the mix.

There needs to be assurances that public oversight is continued with this private group if there are public monies funding it.  Oversight brings accountability and transparency.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fasten Your Seatbelts, Privacy and Open Government in for Bumpy Night

I liked Bette Davis in the movie, All About Eve, and the quote she states is appropriate at the Legislature.

"Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night ."

With ten weeks to go at the Legislature I am waiting for the bills I usually expect from the Department of Administration, and other state and local departments, agencies, and private groups which in their view makes government more open and efficient.  My view is that a number of their initiatives can make government  less accountable and transparent, create  more secrets, and compromise an individuals privacy and civil liberties.

When a person walks into the dark they do not know what to expect, same here with an all new line up at the Capitol.  The expectations of what will be introduced and passed is not all too clear for me.  Usually I could feel with a sense of certainty specific bills would not pass the legislative process.

With the deadlines being turned upside down which means money first, then policy, there will be a rush in April for the bills to be written, near written, and written to be introduced. I have been told by several lobbyists there seems not to be a rush for policy bills currently because of the new deadlines.

My only hope is that the rush for policy bills to make deadline is not like the blitz for money bills as in the past.  When the haste is done for appropriation bills, I believe many members of the public and even members of the legislature felt slighted because there was not enough time for public input.  It is like "wandering in the dark."

So prepare, fasten your seat belts, and be aware of things that go bump in the night.