July  2013    
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  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Follow NEFAC's ongoing First Amendment conversation as it develops across New England 
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Newspaper Appeals Denial of Details on Alien Arrests in NH
  A newspaper is challenging a federal judge's denial of information on aliens arrested in New Hampshire by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
   Gregory V. Sullivan, who represents the New Hampshire Union Leader, said  the appeal was filed with the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The appellate brief is due Aug. 28.
   ICE arrested six aliens who were convicted criminals in 2011 but refused to release their identities.
  The newspaper's suit for access to details of the arrests and IDs was rejected in April by a federal judge in Concord.
   In a similar case, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found in favor of the Boston Globe and its parent company, the New York Times.
   The Globe sought the names of illegal aliens who were convicted of a crime, slated for deportation and then released from federal custody.
Keep up with First Amendment issues via NEFAC's blog
 It's a forum for citizens, journalists, students, public policy advocates and government officials to have their say on First Amendment issues.
   The blog is maintained by the staff of the New England First Amendment Center at the School of Journalism at Northeastern University.
   Submit comments to Laura Crimaldi:

Electronic Chatter Among Officials at Public Meetings Raises Issues of Transparency  

By Jonathan Van Fleet

   NASHUA, N.H. - When officials in Nashua came up with an idea to equip the city's elected leaders with electronic tablets at public meetings to save costs on paper copies of documents, it seemed like a decent idea.

  VanFleet   Except for one thing -- keeping track of their electronic communication during public meetings.

   As our open government laws struggle to keep up in an electronic age, the idea that Nashua's top elected leaders on the Board of Aldermen could be chatting with each other through their Gmail accounts brings up a huge question of accountability.  

   It's a dilemma that could present itself in virtually any city hall in the country and it's a challenge for the newsrooms that cover them.

   At The Telegraph, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, we've already seen these elected officials work on their personal iPads and cell phones during meetings. And getting those records have been spotty, at best.

Read more

Chafee Signs Legislation Shielding RI School Safety Plans from Public View

By Steven Brown
   PROVIDENCE - Last year, after a ten-year struggle by open government groups to get the law updated, the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted some important reforms to the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Regrettably, this year the legislature appeared to show buyer's remorse, passing bills that will keep Rhode Islanders in the dark on important issues.
   The most troubling legislation enacted this month deals with school documents. Under the guise of responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy, the General Assembly enacted a law that exempts all "school safety plan" documents from release under APRA, and further allows school committees to discuss those plans in complete secrecy.
   The ACLU testified, to no avail, that this would unfairly leave parents in the dark about what schools were doing to protect their children. Without public input, schools will be more likely to adopt flawed school safety plans, and nobody will be able to determine if schools are meeting safety standards.  Read more

A Year Later, Exemptions Chipping Away at RI Open Records Law 

   PROVIDENCE A year ago Rhode Island open government advocates were celebrating a huge milestone. We had won the first large scale reform of our open records law, the Access to Public Records Act since the late Marion, john 1990s.  And while we didn't get everything we wanted in the bill, we did get into the law a balancing test for the first time.
   A year later things aren't so sunny for APRA. 
   Two problems have emerged; one involves implementation of the new balancing test, and another involves legislative attempts - and successes - at carving further exemptions to the law. 
   Like many states, Rhode Island responded to the mass killing in Newtown, Conn., by seeking to beef up its gun control laws. But among the bills proposed, one focused on exempting school safety plans from APRA. 
   Despite pleas from advocates that the bill went too far, and interfered with the rights of parents to know how their children are being protected, the Assembly passed the broad exemption and Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently signed the legislation.  Read more
Deadline for Applications to the 2013 NEFAC Institute is Aug. 20   
  Applications for 25 fellowships at the third annual NEFAC Institute, to be held in Dedham, Mass., from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, are due on Aug. 20.
  The fellows will be selected from applicants representing print, broadcast and online news organizations in the six-state region. The 2013 class will be announced the first week of September.
   "This annual conference is intense, collegial and designed to help the region's best reporters incorporate investigative reporting skills into every story they do," said Walter V. Robinson, distinguished professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a Pulitzer winner in 2003.
   The workshops will be held at the headquarters of the New England Newspaper and Press Association in Dedham.
   Rosanna Cavanagh, NEFAC's executive director, said the program is supported by grants from the McLean Contributionship, National Freedom of Information Coalition and sponsorships from The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, The Boston Globe and Sam Adams. Additional funding is provided by the New England Society of  Newspaper Editors and the Academy of  New England Journalists.
   Click here for more Institute details and application materials.
   We welcome contributions to The NEFAC Report from journalists, lawyers, adademics or other advocates of government transparency.
   If you have something to add to the conversation, please let me know. Your  stories, experiences and commentaries have broad appeal and value. - - Larry Laughlin, NEFAC Report editor. (lmlaughlin@gmail.com).