December 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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Happy New Year from NEFAC!


By NEFAC Staff

       Let's resolve to keep our right- to-know mission going strong in 2014.  It is not too late to show your determination by making a tax deductible donation on NEFAC's website.


   Here's an overview of our activities for 2014.  Make your first calendar entry at Jan. 8, the deadline for applications and nominations for NEFAC's FOI Award and the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award. 

   The Orfield Citizenship and FOI awards are designed, respectively, to honor  private citizens and professional journalists who advanced the New England public's right to know in 2013.  Your entries may be made on the attached application and nomination forms.

    Your next entry should be Feb. 8, the day that the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award luncheon will be held honoring James Risen for a lifetime of courageous advocacy for the public's right to know, and the FOI and Citizenship awards will be given out.  

  On that same day and weekend, NEFAC board members will be onsite at the newspaper convention for New England Newspaper and Press Association offering training on media law topics and investigative techniques.

    Don't forget to block of some time during Sunshine Week in March to attend one of NEFAC's trainings open to the public in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or Vermont. Stay tuned for more details.

     Be sure to check our website in July for application materials to our New England First Amendment 
Institute to be held next September, when we will train our fourth class of fellows.   Rosanna Cavanagh, NEFAC Executive Director said, "completing our rigorous training of over 100 New England journalists will be an important milestone for our organization." 

Task Force Adopts Look, Hear But Do Not Copy (Without a Trip to the Commission) Rule

By Jim Smith
   HARTFORD, CONN - When Connecticut legislators met in secret last session, working with the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, they came out from behind closed doors long enough to pass legislation making secret crime scene photos and certain 911 tapes of every homicide in the state henceforth.
 Smith, James       The legislature also created a task force to study the balance between victim privacy and the public's right to know, but stacked the 17-member body with privacy advocates. I am among the seven members clearly in favor of transparency.

         When state Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott, after listening to arguments last month from Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky to keep the 911 tapes secret, ordered them released; Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane urged his fellow task force members to get moving and recommend laws that provide for more secrecy.

       The task force has been meeting since August, and has adopted recommendations this month that would allow limited access to crime scene photographs, 911 recordings and other audio or video depicting the condition of homicide victims.  The access recommended would be for citizens and journalists to listen to the audio tapes or view the photographs or visual images so long as copies are not made.  It also creates a process for requesting copies which would shift the burden to the access seeker to show it is not an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" to release the copies. Read more 

Maine Supreme Court Makes 911 Transcripts Public

By Cliff Schechtman

   PORTLAND, MAINE - The Portland Press Herald won a landmark freedom of information case last month that will now allow the public to better evaluate how well first responders do their job.

Cliff Schechtman

       In a unanimous decision that reversed a lower court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court declared that 911 transcripts  should be released to the public.

The case involved a Biddeford teenager and her boyfriend who had called 911 seeking protection from their threatening landlord. Police responded to the 911 call, determined it was a "civil matter" and left.

       Three minutes later, both teens lay dead. York County Prosecutors say James Earl Pak, 74, shot to death Derrick Thompson, 19, and Thompson's girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18 in Dec. 2012. Thompson's mother, Susan Johnson, also was shot but survived.

Why did police leave the scene and what exactly did the victim tell dispatchers when he called? Did the caller say that the landlord was threatening to kill them? (The answer is yes, but more on that later.) Read more

To watch in 2014: Ag-Gag Bills Pose Problems for the Public's Right to Know
By Rosanna Cavanagh

    As we ring in the New Year without a new farm bill, we put off until next year the resolution of an important right-to-know issue of significant public concern.  If you eat, live near a farm, or care about animals, this bill should concern you, and so, it concerns us all.
       Last month, NEFAC joined with National Freedom of Information Coalition and 44 other organizations to raise the alarm against certain proposed provisions of the bill, which would exempt from disclosure basic information about agricultural and livestock operations, including information that individuals living or sharing  a waterway with "concentrated animal feeding operations" (or CAFOs) urgently need to protect and advocate for their environment and the health of members of their communities.  These "CAFOs" are otherwise known as factory farms, where animals are mass produced in a small area, and so fed antibiotics to prevent widespread bacterial infection. Such use of antibiotics in CAFOs lead to the accumulation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their waste products, which advocacy groups posit will pass into the neighboring waterways, posing health threats to surrounding communities.  This may be the motivation for the provisions of the farm bill which would require the EPA to withhold basic location and contact information about agricultural and livestock operations.

        H.R. 2642 (known as the Farm Bill) is currently listed on the congressional budget website with the status of "resolving differences."

        The farm bill on the national level is only part of the puzzle with regards to the efforts by some members of the agricultural industry to shroud with secrecy what goes on behind closed doors.  At the state level, bills have popped up in more than ten states in 2013, including New Hampshire and Vermont.  While these efforts have met with steep resistance this year leading to defeats to bills in 11 states, we can be most certain the industry has not yet given up on these attempts to shut the critical eyes of journalists and watch dog organizations on the sometimes inhumane or downright disgusting practices that take place at the sites of the worst offenders.  According to Kenneth Bunting, of NFOIC, the "so-called 'Ag-gag'  provisions that have found their way into numerous states' statutes, and which hopefully will be stricken from the federal Farm Bill if Congress ever gets around to doing its job, are overreaching bad ideas aimed at hiding vital  health and safety information from the public. The powerful Agri-business interests pushing these do not have family-farm privacy or any other public interest at heart." 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 us know. Your  stories, experiences and commentaries have broad appeal and value. - Rose Cavanagh, Executive Director NEFAC, [email protected].