October 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." 

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Providence to Pay Leafleter $75,000
By Steven Brown
PROVIDENCE - After vigorously defending the indefensible for almost three years, the City of Providence this month agreed to pay $75,000 to settle an ACLU lawsuit involving the violation of the free speech rights of a local resident who had been barred from peacefully leafleting in front of a building where then-Mayor David Cicilline was speaking.
   Under the settlement agreement, the city acknowledged that police "unconstitutionally interfered" with Judith Reilly's First Amendment rights in 2010 when they threatened to arrest her.
   At the time, she was distributing fliers on a sidewalk adjacent to the auditorium where Cicilline was scheduled to give his annual State of the City address.  Read more

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:

Why the AP Wants Sandy Hook 911 Calls 

By William J. Kole

   BOSTON - It's journalism's dirty little secret: Just because we have information doesn't necessarily mean we're going to use it.
     When The Associated Press asked officials in Newtown, Conn., for the tapes of 911 calls made during last December's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it touched off a debate pitting privacy rights against the public's right to know.
    Newtown's police department denied the request, and the AP appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission. On Sept. 25, the commission ruled in favor of AP and ordered the tapes' release.

   That won't happen until Connecticut's courts rule on an appeal by Stephen Sedensky III, the prosecutor leading the investigation into the rampage, which killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders. Read more


Maine Does Away with Newspapers'  Sales Tax Exemption   

By Sigmund D. Schutz

   AUGUSTA, MAINE - As of Oct.1 newspapers lost their sales tax exemption in Maine. The sale of fuel to burn blueberry fields, lobster bait, ships stores, and dozens of other preferred groups and activities retained their sales  tax exemptions.

   The Governor's Office of Tax Policy gave as reason for the new tax that "generally" sales tax exemptions are for the "necessities of life," suggesting that newspapers do not reach that threshold.

   Since when are newspapers no longer necessary? I get it that lobsters and blueberries are important parts of Maine's economy, but do they deserve special treatment over free speech? 

   What Maine newspapers do is find, report, and distribute information on what is happening in Maine and around the world. Just about no one has the time or inclination to personally stay abreast of government activities. We rely on the press to do that for us. Read more

VT Supreme Court Opens Police Porn Case to Public
By Brent Curtis
     RUTLAND, Vt. - The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the public's right to access to the criminal and internal investigations of two Rutland police officers who viewed pornography on work computers.
   More than three years after the Rutland Herald's initial request for the records was denied by the city, the court's five justices on Oct. 11 unanimously affirmed a Rutland civil court decision.
   The lower court had found the public interest in the activities and identities of officers who accessed pornography at work outweighed any privacy rights of those city employees. The city appealed that ruling.
   But the high court swept aside the so-called "personal" exemption as an insufficient shield against the public's interest in the workings and supervisory practices inside the Rutland Police Department. Read more

Portland Inspector Left with Money in Hand, Gag in Mouth   

By Randy Billings
   PORTLAND, Maine - When the city's controversial health inspector quietly resigned and stopped returning my phone calls, I knew something was fishy.
   It was unusual for the health inspector to be a voice in my stories, because the city barred her from speaking with reporters.
   But when I learned she had resigned, I thought it would be a great opportunity to debrief her about her two-year stint as Portland's first health inspector dedicated to improving the city's restaurant inspection program. I assumed she would have a lot to say.
   Prior to her arrival, restaurants inspections were scarcely conducted. As a result, many restaurant owners had relaxed their practices and were not completely knowledgeable about the state food code. That scenario put consumers at an increased risk of getting sick. Read more
   We welcome contributions to The NEFAC Report from journalists, lawyers, academics 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.