The Virginia General Assembly will convene Jan. 13 for a 60-day session. The November 2009 elections resulted in a Republican gain of six House seats, for a Republican-Democrat-Independent split of 59-39-2.
More than 30 races were uncontested, including Republican James Edmunds’ unopposed bid to fill Clarke Hogan’s seat in the 60th District.
A recount in the 17th District confirmed that Republican Ronald Villanueva edged out incumbent Bobby Mathieson by a mere 16 votes. A judge certified the result on Dec. 14.
Special elections will be held to fill the Senate seats vacated by Ken Cuccinelli, who was elected state Attorney General, and Kenneth Stolle, who was elected Virginia Beach sheriff.
At its November legislative preview meeting, the FOI Advisory Council learned about four bills that might be introduced this session.
The University of Virginia said it would seek an exemption for “all records” generated by a threat assessment team (TAT) at a Virginia public university.
TATs were mandated by law in response to the massacre at Virginia Tech. Public colleges and universities are required to set up TATs to develop policies and procedures for assessing individuals whose behavior may pose a risk, for setting up appropriate means of intervention and for taking sufficient action to resolve potential threats.
The Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government expressed concern that the proposed exemption appeared to shield records in perpetuity, even in the event of another tragedy. Both organizations urged that language be included to allow release of information upon the occurrence of a particular event. Many other exemptions in FOIA have these after-the-fact kinds of release mechanisms.
Prince William County Schools (PWCS) said it will seek legislation to address the effects of a bill offered last year by Sen. Toddy Puller, D-Mount Vernon, on FOIA lawsuit filing procedures.
PWCS argued that in amending FOIA to say that mandamus procedures found elsewhere in the Virginia Code did not apply, Puller’s bill effectively eliminated a defendant’s right to advance notice of the lawsuit filed against it.
Rather than undoing Puller’s bill, the Advisory Council suggested that PWCS seek an amendment to FOIA specifically stating that advance-notice is required.
Former Attorney General Anthony Troy told the council of his intent to seek legislation to make clear that if a lawyer makes a FOIA request on behalf of a client and subsequently files suit over a potential FOIA violation, then the suit can be filed in the client’s name, not the lawyer’s.
Troy represents Gloucester County Board of Supervisors Chair Teresa Altemus in her FOIA lawsuit against the State Police. Troy made a request for records on Altemus’ behalf that was wrongly denied. When he filed suit, he was told he had to file it in his name, since he was the one who actually requested the records.
Troy also suggested specifically including expert witness fees within the FOIA section allowing for attorneys’ fees and costs.
When Phil Hamilton resigned his House seat, the ethics panel investigating the relationship between Hamilton’s job at an Old Dominion University teacher training center and his seat on the House Appropriations Committee immediately dropped its investigation, saying it lacked jurisdiction over a non-sitting legislator.
House Majority Leader William Howell, R-Fredericksburg, and House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, both called for legislation to address the jurisdictional loophole.
Armstrong further expressed an intent to make future ethics investigations more open to the public. Currently, the panel is forbidden by state law from disclosing to anyone the documents, interviews or other materials that were collected as part of the investigation, said E.M. Miller, director of the Division of Legislative Services, which staffed the panel.
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