General Assembly 2012 preview

At press time in mid-December, only a handful of bills that deal directly with open government had been filed. Prince William Republicans Del. Bob Marshall and Sen. Richard Black have filed matching bills that would withhold state funding for Phase II of the Dulles Metrorail Project if the project's parent agency (the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) does not open its records to view under FOIA.

Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) will be carrying this year's effort to close off access to concealed handgun permit applications (CHPs) at the courthouse. The CHP database maintained by the Virginia State Police has been off-limits since 2009, but information can still be obtained locally. Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) sponsored a bill similar to Cole's in 2010. Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Mount Solon) introduced a bill in 2011 that would have allowed CHP applicants to opt out of public disclosure.

Legislation is expected that would change the publication of public and legal notices in newspapers from mandatory to optional instead. For a number of years, several legislators have sought to make newspaper publication one of a list of optional methods of dissemination along with government websites, public-access cable channels, TV and radio, text messages and email. Proponents have said the change would save money, while opponents believe newspapers are still the best way to reach the greatest number of people.

Vital Records

The Joint Commission on Health Care considered several options for the release by the State Registrar of vital records, but decided to recommend only one change.

The options were created in response to SB 865, a bill introduced in 2011 by Sen. Harry Blevins (R-Chesapeake) that would have made disclosure of birth records mandatory after 100 years, and death, marriage and divorce records after 50 years. Current law makes the disclosure discretionary.

The commission received 387 written comments, mostly from genealogists (some from out of state), but also from the Virginia Press Association and the Library of Virginia.

Many of the comments stressed that many records are immediately available at the courthouse or already appear on government-mandated lists and databases.

Despite the comments' overwhelming support for making disclosure mandatory and for shortening the time periods, the commission ultimately voted to keep the status quo, though the time-frame for marriage records was shortened to 25 years.