The Senate Judiciary Committee, despite changing from Democrat to Republican control, unanimously approved a FOIA bill (S 337) on February 5, 2015. A similar House bill (HR 653) was introduced February 2 and awaits action by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
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A coalition of journalism and photography groups, including SEJ, objected to requirements for permits and fees for photography in the public parks of Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. In a February 4, 2015, letter to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), the 14 groups asked the agency to revise its rules to protect photojournalists' First Amendment rights.Region:
You may have read in recent WatchDogs about controversial federal laws and rules that could restrict photojournalism in federal parks, forests, and rangelands. Now comes the "Ansel Adams bill" that would make it legal to do an activity that is Constitutionally protected. Only someone has to introduce the bill. Photo: Ansel Adams, by J. Malcolm Greany.
The industry got Congress in 2005 to block the public from knowing about these chemicals, which can end up in people's drinking water. But the enviro groups, led by the Environmental Integrity Project, want to use a different law to help unlock the data.
One way to deal with bad press is to make it illegal. Exposés of inhumane conditions at feedlots and slaughterhouses are being made illegal by state legislatures that pass "ag gag" laws. Now a case in Utah is challenging whether industrial agriculture's claims of secrecy trump the eating public's right to know. Image: Sows in 7'x2' Smithfield Foods gestation crates. By Humane Society of the US [CC], 2010.
Environmental journalists can find important stories using data about lobbyists registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to work for foreign firms and governments. The Sunlight Foundation and other groups have compiled some of the information into a searchable online database — a starting point for finding enviro and energy stories.Region:
Journalists hurrying to get up to speed on environmental or energy issues can get objective background from reports by the Congressional Research Service (an arm of the Library of Congress), which does not release them to the taxpaying public that funded them. We thank the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for publishing them.Topics on the Beat:
Three GOP-backed House bills attacking science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to become law in the current Congress — or the next. The Obama administration has threatened to veto all three, which the House passed in November along party lines. None is likely to muster enough support to override a veto.
There is still hope (and perhaps time) for this Congress to pass a bill strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary seems likely to mark up a revised FOIA reform bill Thursday, November 20, 2014. After that will come a push to bring it to the Senate floor and eventually reconcile with a FOIA bill already passed by the House.
On a 229-191 party-line vote, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill reining in EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) — authorizing conflicts of interest for its members and gagging them in communications about subjects they are expert on. Science integrity and environmental groups had opposed the bill, which the House passed on November 18, 2014.