Transparency News, 1/10/2022


January 10, 2022

There was no newsletter on Friday, Jan. 7.

state & local news stories


Watch this space for VCOG's annual bill chart. LOTS of bills will be posted this week, so check back frequently and throughout the session.

The Virginia legislature’s information technology agency has restored nearly all of the services cut off by a ransomware attack last month. The attack hit the Division of Legislative Automated Systems (DLAS), shutting down the computer systems for Virginia’s legislative agencies and commissions less than a month before the start of the 2022 General Assembly session. There are two ongoing investigations into the attack, a criminal probe led by Virginia State Police and a forensic analysis handled by DLAS. A cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, worked with DLAS after a “breach this past summer” and is working with the agency on the ongoing investigation. 
Virginia's systems for continuing state government in the face of disaster are being put to the test. With the General Assembly preparing to convene on Wednesday for a 60-day session, legislative agencies are running their websites and computer systems on a backup IT network to bypass malware implanted in a ransomware attack that crippled them last month. The legislative agencies - including the Capitol Police and the division that drafts bills - have mostly restored their computer systems and websites, using a separate network for "continuity of government" as a criminal investigation continues into the ransomware attack first detected on Dec. 12. Continuity of government is an emergency plan to keep the government operating in a disaster — natural or man-made. In this case, the state is trying to avert a disaster from an attack on legislative agencies timed almost exactly a month before the assembly arrives in Richmond for a session that will include adoption of a new two-year state budget.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Roanoke County School Board on Thursday temporarily rescinded the motion it passed earlier this week that would roll back the mask mandate in schools, among other safety protocols. The motion originally passed Tuesday during a work session that didn’t include a public comment period would make the system “mask optional and return to pre-COVID medical policies leaving medical decisions such as testing, quarantining and contact tracing between the doctor, the student patient, and the student’s parent/guardians,” following the expected reversal of many COVID-19 regulations in K-12 schools by Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin after he’s sworn in Jan. 15. On Thursday, the school board called another meeting to change its decision, because it did not consult legal guidance before passing the measure, and it could have potentially conflicted with state law, according to board Chairman David Linden.
The Roanoke Times

Virginia is moving closer to joining the dozens of other states that track absentee votes down to the neighborhood level, a change that would give researchers, news outlets and campaigns better insight into local election data and voting trends. But some officials have warned that, if implemented the wrong way, it could mean slower results on election night. The explosion in absentee voting, fueled by the pandemic and Virginia’s newly relaxed rules on early voting, has come with a slight downside: Analysts can’t pinpoint exactly where those votes are coming from. 
Virginia Mercury

The Virginia Department of Health has temporarily scaled back operations at the Office of Vital Records due to staffing shortages and COVID-19 infections affecting its employees. The office provides birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates for the state and has customers across the world. The office partners with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle offices and local health districts to provide access to certified records at those locations. Due to staffing shortages and COVID-19 infections among  staff members, some operations will be temporarily suspended so that the office can continue to provide essential services to the general public, VDH said in a news release.
Inside NoVa

Police are investigating social media comments directed at Chesapeake School Board members that alluded to violence. The comments were posted on Instagram after a special meeting Dec. 31 at which the board reinstated a mask mandate in schools. Over the past couple of months, board member Dr. Patricia King said there’s been more police officers at meetings for safety purposes. Parents and community members also have to walk through a metal detector when they enter the building. During the special meeting, two people were removed from the meeting for outbursts after King called for a closed meeting. The Instagram post recorded the incident as one parent voluntarily left, saying this child would not come back to the school division, and a Virginia Beach parent was escorted out.
The Virginian-Pilot

Warren County could soon ditch paper meeting agenda packets for digital versions with a new service under consideration. Deputy Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Emily Ciarrocchi presented information to supervisors at their work session on Tuesday. The service through iCompass would cost the county $10,000 that would include digitizing meeting agenda packet materials, posting on the website, integrating with other online systems such as livestream video and 24/7 technical support. County Administrator Edwin Daley told supervisors the county could start using the system this spring if the board signs off on it. The board would need to approve a contract or service agreement once the county finalizes work on selecting a vendor.
The Northern Virginia Daily

stories of national interest

When Iowa’s 2022 legislative session commences Monday, there will be a notable absence on the floor of the state Senate: reporters. Republican leaders in the state Senate told journalists last week they will no longer be allowed to work on the chamber floor, a change that breaks with a more than 140-year tradition in the Iowa Capitol. The move raised concerns among free press and freedom of information advocates who said it is a blow to transparency and open government that makes it harder for the public to understand, let alone scrutinize, elected officials. The new rule denies reporters access to the press benches near senators’ desks, a proximity current and former statehouse reporters told The Washington Post is crucial for the most accurate and nuanced coverage. The position allows reporters to see and hear everything clearly on the Senate floor and to get real-time answers and clarifications during debates.
The Washington Post


editorials & columns


Last month, nearing the end of his term, Gov. Ralph Northam took the podium at a fire station in Goochland County with a sense of accomplishment. He announced more than $722 million in grants that would support 35 broadband projects across 70 localities. Roughly 278,000 households, businesses and community institutions are positioned to gain high-speed service, and Virginia now is on pace to achieve universal broadband by 2024. But the metrics that have shaped recent broadband efforts, led by the number of unconnected homes and businesses, have to evolve going forward. Virginia must measure the return on investment. Collect concrete data about “who” is receiving new internet service, “where” it is being placed and how it is generating progress.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Food and Drug Administration was just told by a federal judge in Texas that no, it can’t take 75 years to release documents showing the process of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine licensing approval — that it has to cough up the data within about eight months. That’s a significant win for open government advocates. The fact the FDA feigned inability to provide the crucial documents in Freedom of Information Act requesters’ lifetimes was an abysmal abuse of government power in the first place. Who needs 75 years to give the public what the public already owns?
Washington Times