This week’s FOIA round-up: USDA adopts a new "hands-off" animal welfare policy, ICE is putting mentally ill migrants in solitary confinement, and an L.A. official was paid by an agency he was lobbying

This week’s FOIA round-up: USDA adopts a new “hands-off” animal welfare policy, ICE is putting mentally ill migrants in solitary confinement, and an L.A. official was paid by an agency he was lobbying

Plus, a new Tennessee court ruling says the state’s agencies must release public records even if they are part of a criminal investigation

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Edited by JPat Brown

In this week’s FOIA round-up, the number of animal welfare citations issued by the USDA has decreased by 65% under the Trump Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is placing record numbers of migrants in solitary confinement, many of whom are mentally ill, L.A. official Michael LoGrande was lobbying private developers while serving as the head of the city’s Planning Agency, and the Tennessee Court of Appeals rules that state agencies still have to release public records that are part of criminal investigations.

See a great use of public records we missed? Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we will include them in the next roundup. And if you’d like even more inspiration, read past roundups.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is emphasizing “education, not enforcement” when it comes to animal welfare

In 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors were instructed to take a more lenient approach to animal welfare violations, following pressure from industry leaders on the Trump Administration. The change, touted as a focus on “education, not enforcement,” began in 2016 under the Obama Administration, has been exacerbated in recent years.

As a result, the number of animal welfare citations issued by the USDA has decreased by 65% since 2016, according to public records obtained by the Animal Welfare Institute and reported by the Washington Post.

According to USDA policy, “teachable moments” cannot be applied to violations that affect animal health or welfare. But records obtained by animal rights groups show several apparent violations - including a pig death, overgrown goat hoofs and dogs kept in too-small enclosures - logged as teachable moments.

Read the Washington Post’s full analysis of the USDA’s failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act here.

New records reveal that some ICE detainees in solitary confinement have mental illness

As Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers become increasingly filled, ICE is placing more migrants in solitary confinement. New records obtained by a public records request submitted by the Project on Government Oversight show that some detainees or locked in isolation for up to 23 hours.

The records, which span 2016 through May 2018, indicate that roughly 40 percent of detainees locked in solitary confinement have mental illness.

Read the Daily Beast’s full story on the records here.

L.A. Official was paid by city’s government while illegally lobbying planning officials

According to a new public records request submitted by the L.A. Times, the Los Angeles Planning Department was paying its former top executive over $18,000 per month in consulting fees while he was illegally lobbying managers of that same agency on behalf of private developers. Emails released through The Times’ request show that the official, Michael LoGrande, was already communicating with private developers while he was still head of the CIty Planning Department

Read the L.A. Times’ full story here.

Tennessee state agencies must release public records even if they are part of a criminal investigation, the Tennessee Court of Appeals rules.

When Phil Williams of NewsChannel 5 made a routine public records request to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation last year, the TBI denied the request on the basis that the records were part of an ongoing investigation. In a victory for public records requests, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that state agencies cannot withhold non-investigative public records just because they become relevant to a criminal investigation.

Read a full analysis of the court’s ruling from MuckRock.

Read a great FOIA-based news story we should highlight? Let us know and maybe we can include it in our next roundup! Send it over via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


Image via USDA Flickr