Sunshine Week

It’s Freedom of Information Day. It is being celebrated by the Minnesota Coalition of Government information at the Minneapolis Public library today.

The keynote speaker is Chief Justice Eric Magnuson. He recently announced he was retiring from the Minnesota Supreme Court. Initially, the press is covering the issue intently in regards to the unalotment case.

Eventually the event starts.

Chief Justice Magnuson gives a keynote focusing on several issues. Of course, the topic of adequate court funding came up. Chief Justice Magnuson expresses concerns that adequate court funding is not occurring.

More to the point of the day, Chief Justice Magnuson is discussing the impact of having cameras in courtrooms. The Chief Justice is awaiting a report on their possible impact so they can consider the impact of cameras in the courtrooms.

Chief Magnuson then discusses cases which balance the public’s right to know against privacy interests. He is discussing his participation in a case in which the plaintiff’s wanted to keep confidential information in a settlement agreement from being discussed by the media. In looking back on the issue, he feels most of these cases are grey areas whose real value is to raise discussions about the public’s right to know.

Chief Magnuson also states courts function when people have confidence in them. People do not believe that judges can be fair and honest when there are big campaign contributions.

After the keynote, the event turns to the issue of the awards.

John R. Finnegan is the past publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a freedom of information advocate. He worked on the creation of the current data practices act. According to Finnegan, access to information is vital to keeping democracy functioning properly. He is concerned there are fewer newspaper people to serve the interest. He want to recognize and praise the few remaining.

This year the award recipient of the John R. Finnegan FOI award is Reed Anfinson the publisher of the Swift County Monitor. It is an award which is given to recognize work which demonstrates leadership and a commitment to the power of information to effect change.

Reed Anfinson works with two newspaper groups. He lobbies on sunshine laws. He is effective because he knows what the laws are. His brother has an impeccable media law background.

After the awards ceremony there is a brief question and answer period. A major focus of the event becomes the issue of a bill in the judiciary committee sponsored by Betzold which requires a deposit of $1,000. People are concerned about whether or not the amount is fully refundable. According to a questioner, $1,000 is an estimate on the deposit for the FOI appeal costs with a possible nonrefundable $50. According to the questioner on an apparently party line vote, the $50 became nonrefundable. According to the questioner, Republicans wanted to give the money back, but Democrats said no. I have looked at the committee reports and did not find that such a vote has occurred. It appears the nonrefundable $50 aspect has always been in the bill.

A discussion is had about the timing of the hearing on the bill as it progresses through committee. In attendance is Senator Larry Pogemiller.

Senator Larry Pogemiller at FOI Day.

After the event, I try to raise awareness about my efforts to save Dollhouse. My only real concern is for Eliza Dushku.

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