Transparency News 1/11/18

January 11, 2018
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state & local news stories
quote_1.jpgFollow the bills we follow. Go to VCOG's annual legislative chart.
New House Rules (HR17 - Gilbert) include this beautiful addition:
Rule 18(c). A recorded vote of members of a committee or subcommittee shall be taken and the name and number of those voting for, against, or abstaining shall be taken upon each measure using an electronic voting system, unless inoperable, in which case the Clerk will record the vote by response to the call of names arranged and called in the order named except that the Chair shall be called last. Such recorded vote shall be reported with the bill or resolution and ordered printed on the Calendar on any matter reported from committee and sent to the floor, including those measures reported and referred.

This is something VCOG and Transparency Virginia have been bringing to attention since the 2015 session. Good work from the House leadership!

HB 940 - Roem: Provides for the Attorney General to appoint a Freedom of Information Act Ombudsman to promote compliance by state agencies with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.)

HB 957 - Yancey: Defines "custodian," for the purposes of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, as the official in charge of a public body or entity that has created, prepared, or revised a public record or that maintains or possesses a public record. The bill allows for more than one custodian per record.

HB 958 - Yancey: Provides that no provision of FOIA is intended, nor shall it be construed or applied, to authorize a public body to withhold a public record in its entirety on the grounds that information contained in the public record was provided by another public body.

HB 959 - Yancey: Requires a public body initiating a transfer of public records to any entity, including to any other public body, to remain the custodian of those records only if the public body has transferred the entirety of those public records. Current law requires the public body initiating a transfer of public records to remain the custodian if it has transferred possession of any public records. The bill also excludes the transfer of a portion of information contained in a public body's public record to another public body from being considered a transfer of an entire public record.

HB 989 - Gilbert: Authorizes the designee of the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council (Council) to release proposed formal advisory opinions for public comment prior to the Council's approval of such opinions. The bill provides that such proposed opinions do not confer the same immunity protections as formal advisory opinions until their approval by the Council.

HB 1101 - Robinson: Requires that every public body, except for governing boards of public institutions of higher education, afford an opportunity for public comment during any open meeting. The bill provides, however, that if a public body holds more than four meetings in a calendar year, such public body may, by recorded vote, limit the number of meetings at which an opportunity for public comment is afforded to four meetings per calendar year. The bill requires that the notice given by a public body prior to a meeting include information as to the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received. In current law, this requirement applies only to public bodies where at least one member has been appointed by the Governor. The bill permits public bodies to choose the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received and permits public bodies to adopt reasonable rules governing the public comment portion of the meeting, including imposing reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner, but prohibits public bodies from limiting public comment to only the submission of written comments.

HB 1147 - Convirs-Fowler: Requires the clerk of court for the jurisdiction in which a person was convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense to seal the court records related to such conviction after 10 years from the date of the person's completion of all terms of sentencing and probation. The bill defines a nonviolent misdemeanor offense as any misdemeanor other than a violation of a protective order, a crime against the person (§ 18.2-30 et seq.), or an offense that requires registration on the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry. The bill also requires the clerk to seal records related to a nonviolent misdemeanor offense charge that was terminated by nolle prosequi or otherwise dismissed after the expiration of the statute of limitations for such charge.

HB 1172 - Pillion: Establishes the State Overdose Death Review Process Team to develop and implement processes to ensure that overdose deaths occurring in the Commonwealth are reviewed in a systematic way

HB 1247 - Cline: Requires that every public body afford an opportunity for public comment during any open meeting. The bill requires that the notice given by a public body prior to a meeting include information as to the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received. The bill permits public bodies to choose the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received and permits public bodies to adopt reasonable rules governing the public comment portion of the meeting, including imposing reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner.

HB 1275 - Aird: Excludes from the mandatory disclosure provisions of FOIA trade secrets, as defined in the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (§ 59.1-336 et seq.), supplied to the Department of Transportation as part of an audit, special investigation, or any study requested by the Department of Transportation. The bill provides that in order for such trade secrets to be excluded, the submitting party shall (i) invoke this exclusion upon submission of the data or materials for which protection from disclosure is sought, (ii) identify the data or materials for which protection is sought, and (iii) state the reasons why protection is necessary.

HB 1277 - Garrett: Amends the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (§ 2.2-3800 et seq.) to facilitate the sharing of data among agencies of the Commonwealth and between the Commonwealth and political subdivisions.

HB 1306 - Habeeb: The bill provides that, in any civil case filed on or after July 1, 2019, clerks of the circuit courts shall maintain all nonconfidential documents in electronic form and make such documents available through secure remote access and searchable by name and case number across all circuit courts that use the Office of the Executive Secretary's electronic imaging system. The bill directs the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to administer a paid subscription service that provides access to all electronic records maintained by the clerks who use such electronic imaging system for civil cases filed on or after July 1, 2019. (Click the link for the full description)

HB 1309 - Roem: Creates a journalists' shield law.

HB 1310 - Lindsey: Allows the clerk of a district court to destroy the papers, records, and documents in all cases after three years if such papers, records, and documents have been microfilmed or converted to an electronic format. Under current law, records for certain misdemeanors cannot be destroyed regardless of whether they have been preserved electronically.

SB 399 - Lewis: Authorizes any county or city, or any combination of counties, cities, or counties and cities, to establish a local or regional drug overdose fatality review team. Includes an exclusion from FOIA for all records created regarding a review of a fatality.

SB 512 - Sutterlein: Excludes student telephone numbers and student personal email addresses contained in scholastic records from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.


Inside the Pocahontas Building: hallway after hallway of beige office space, all similar in appearance, with a few dead ends. Elevators do not always go where you think they’re going. The two ways in and out are on separate floors — “G” and “1.” No one has had enough time to explore the basement “B” yet. Even some senior Virginia General Assembly staffers got lost Wednesday in a confusing new place on an exciting day when they were reunited with people they have not seen in a year, along with plenty of newbies. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, was among those exploring the building Wednesday. “It’s been a while since I felt like a freshman in high school,” she said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Supreme Court is now considering the matter of a Franklin County man who has challenged a felony conviction he received for displaying a noose as a means of frightening his neighbors, who are black. “I’m in favor of banning nooses,” defense attorney Holland Perdue told the justices but said, “defining everything that’s visible as a public place is dangerous.” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schandevel countered that the General Assembly, and the wording of the statute, had a more direct goal. “The legislature’s intent was to prohibit true threats,” Schandevel said, and he maintained that private property “shouldn’t insulate” symbols of intimidation such as a noose. The statute, he said, stipulates a “public place,” not “public property.”
The Roanoke Times

Waynesboro City Council voted Monday to change the compensation package for each of its elected members in a move aimed at saving the city money. The councilors will actually see a bump in pay, but the health benefit they are currently offered will be eliminated, which is where the savings are expected to be generated.
News Leader

Costs related to the ongoing investigations and turmoil in Purcellville are now expected to top $120,000, a figure that does not include tens of thousands of dollars being paid to town employees who are on leave. Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday agreed to more unexpected expenses related to the scandal that has left four high-level town employees on paid administrative leave.  Council members did not address the investigations at length prior to going into closed session during Tuesday's business meeting, but Mayor Kwasi Fraser touched briefly on the matter.   “We owe you folks a detailed analysis – and it's owed to this council also – the costs and the expenses that we will be putting forward to [the investigation],” Fraser said. “ ... everything that happens that is negative -- and I've gotten emails to prove this -- people are blaming it on, 'Oh, this council is a mess. This town is a mess.' But we are far from a mess. I just want to make sure that we are held accountable by presenting to you exactly where the money is going.”
Loudoun Times-Mirror
stories of national interest
U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial voter fraud panel made no early findings and will not give the Department of Homeland Security any voter data it received, the White House’s top technology official said. In a document filed late on Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, White House Information Technology Director Charles Herndon said it “intends to destroy all state voter data” the panel had received after Trump disbanded to commission last week.

A Louisiana school board's office went on temporary lockdown after getting death threats following a widely viewed video showing a teacher being handcuffed at a school board meeting. The threats have come from as far away as South America, Australia and England, as well as other U.S. states, Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana told The Advertiser newspaper Tuesday. He said they've been reported to the FBI and local police. Middle-school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave was removed from Monday night's school board meeting, forcibly handcuffed by an officer and jailed after questioning pay policies during a public comment period.

quote_2.jpgThe disbanded voter fraud panel "intends to destroy all state voter data."