Open Government Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases

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Open Government

The ACLU of Rhode Island works daily to improve citizens' access to public records and meetings through litigation, public education and advocacy.  

Why is open government important?

  • Openness in government is a linchpin of democracy, ensuring that the voters have the information they need to choose their leaders and then evaluate their performance in office.
  • Public access to information is an essential tool in the fight against corruption in government.
  • Public access to information can save taxpayer dollars and expose poor government practices.

The public has the right to know what its government is doing. After all, isn't our government supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people”?

One of the most vital aspects of an open government is public access to government records.  Accessing Public Records in Rhode Island includes an explanation of the APRA request process and gives you tips on requesting public records.

Open Government in the News

  • Aug, 08, 2017: ACLU Sues Pawtucket Police Over Failure to Turn Over Reports of Alleged Police Misconduct
  • Jul, 26, 2017: ACLU Urges Newport and Providence Police Chiefs to Adopt Stricter Policies for Police Body Cameras
  • May, 18, 2017: ACLU of RI Statement on 38 Studios Grand Jury Decision

View All Open Government Related News Releases »

Open Government Related Court Cases

2017: Lyssikatos V. King
Category: Active Case    Open Government    Police Practices    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit against the Pawtucket Police over the Department's refusal to release reports of alleged police officer misconduct generated by its Internal Affairs Division (IAD). Filed on behalf of Dimitri Lyssikatos, a member of the Rhode Island Accontability Project, the suit argues that the Department's refusal to release the records is a violation of the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA). 

Current Status:
Suit filed in August 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
James D. Cullen, R. Kelly Sheridan

Supporting Documents
2017: In re: 38 Studios Grand Jury
Category: Active Case    Open Government    


About This Case:
This is a "friend of the court" brief in R.I. Superior Court in support of Governor Gina Raimondo's petition to have the court release the grand jury records of the 38 Studios investigation.  The ACLU of RI's brief argues that, while grand jury records should ordinarily be protected from disclosure, the 38 Studios investigation "presents a truly exceptional circumstance that justifies disclosure."

Current Status:
In May 2017, RI Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney ruled against releasing the documents.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Jared A. Goldstein, Andrew Horwitz

Supporting Documents

View All Right to Open Government Court Cases »

Open Government Related Legislation

Open Meetings (S 381, H6323) PASSED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

In February 2016, the ACLU published a report called “Hidden Agenda” in which we took a close look at compliance of agencies with the Open Meetings Act requirement to publicly post their agendas at least 48 hours in advance of the date of their meetings. Our report found many violations in this regard. One of our many recommendations included providing the public with more adecuate notice about public meetings, by excluding weekends and holidays from that calculation. This legislation would do just that. During the first week of May, the Senate passed S 381 and the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. During the last week of June, H 6323 was passed by both the House and the Senate.

Administrative Procedures Act (H 5339, S 229)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

Currently, the state Board of Elections is virtually the only major state agency exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires state agencies to adopt rules and regulations through an open, public process. As a result, the Board can modify how elections take place in Rhode Island without having to inform the public or accept public input. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Carlos Tobon (H 5339) and Senator Stephen Archambault (S 229) to eliminate this exemption. No action was taken on this legislation prior to the June recess.

38 Studios Public Records (H 5347, S 932) PASSED
Category: 2017    Open Government    

This legislation would make public any records generated or obtained by the Rhode Island state police or Attorney General in their investigation of the 38 Studios scandal. The ACLU assisted sponsor Rep. Charlene Lima in drafting the legislation, and the House approved the measure in March. Citing the strong public interest in their release, the ACLU and other open government groups have been calling for disclosure of the documents since last year. In April, the ACLU filed a friend of the court brief in support of the release of the grand jury records in the investigation. Senator Lombardi introduced this legislation (S 932) as well in the Senate. 

This legislation passed the House and the Senate during the month of June. However, before the Governor even had an opportunity to sign the bill, the Attorney General had a Superior Court judge issue a temporary restraining order blocking release of documents from the 38 Studios investigation.

Access to Public Records (S 68)
Category: 2017    Open Government    

The Access to Public Records Act is a critical law, essential to promoting open government and an informed citizenry. Despite updates to the law in 2012, an audit by the ACLU and other groups concerned with transparency in government found the law’s enforcement policies insufficient to ensure compliance from dozens of agencies. The ACLU testified before the Senate Judiciary committee this year in support of legislation sponsored by Senator Stephen Archambault (S 68) to make it easier for the public to obtain documents of public concern. Among other provisions, the legislation limits when documents such as arrest reports and correspondence by elected officials could be exempt from release, requires public bodies to specifically note the reasons for withholding any document and to prominently feature their public records policies on their websites, and allows courts to impose stronger penalties on those agencies that improperly withhold documents. No further action was taken on this legislation after being heard.