Transparency News 1/12/18

January 12, 2018
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state & local news stories
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SB 523 - Obenshain: Requires electronic pollbooks to contain the photographs of registered voters that are obtained by the general registrars in the production of voter photo identification cards or contained in a voter's Department of Motor Vehicles record. Includes a provision that "no photograph contained in the electronic pollbook shall be disclosed to any party."

SB 564 - Obenshain: Provides that a clerk of court shall make nonconfidential court records available to the public upon request. The bill specifies that such records shall be provided no later than 30 days after the request. The bill further provides that the clerk may charge a fee for responding to such request that shall not exceed the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, reviewing, supplying, or searching for the requested records. Finally, the bill requires the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to make available to the public an online case information system of nonconfidential information for criminal cases by July 1, 2019.

SB 580 - Hanger: Amends the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act to facilitate the sharing of data among agencies of the Commonwealth and between the Commonwealth and political subdivisions. The bill also creates an Office of Data Governance, housed in the office of the Secretary of Technology, to (i) develop guidelines regarding data usage, storage, and privacy and (ii) generally oversee and assist with data sharing in the Commonwealth to promote the usage of data in improving the delivery of services.

SB 592 - Vogel: A campaign finance bill that bars the conversion of any contributed moneys, securities, or like intangible personal property by any person to the personal use of a candidate in certain circumstances. The bill includes this provision: "The State Board [of Elections] may, by unanimous vote, declare a complaint to be factually meritless when, viewing the facts offered in the complaint in the light most favorable to the complaining party, it finds no credible allegation of a violation of this section. Any complaint that is declared factually meritless shall not be heard within the 60 days immediately preceding an election in which the accused candidate is running for office and shall be excluded from public disclosure pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) for that 60-day period if the State Board finds that disclosure during this time would be against the public interest and would tend to call into question the integrity of the electoral process or expose the electoral process to manipulation by those seeking electoral advantage through the manufacture of factually meritless allegations."

SB 599 - Vogel: Requires the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to create a license, with certain application, review, and operation requirements, to grow industrial hemp outside of the industrial hemp research program. Says that "all records, data, and information filed in support of a license application shall be deemed confidential and not subject to the provisions of [FOIA]."

SB 630 - Surovell:  Provides that in addition to any penalties imposed under FOIA, (i) if a court finds that any officer, employee, or member of a public body failed to provide public records to a requester in accordance with the provisions of FOIA because such officer, employee, or member of a public body intentionally altered or destroyed the requested public records prior to the expiration of the applicable record retention period set by the retention regulations promulgated pursuant to the Virginia Public Records Act (§ 42.1-76 et seq.) by the State Library Board, the court shall impose upon such officer, employee, or member in his individual capacity, whether or not a writ of mandamus or injunctive relief is awarded, a civil penalty of up to $100 per record altered or destroyed, which amount shall be paid into the Literary Fund, and (ii) if a court finds that a member of a public body voted to certify a closed meeting and at the time of such certification such certification was not in accordance with the requirements of FOIA, the court shall impose on each such member voting to certify in his individual capacity, whether or not a writ of mandamus or injunctive relief is awarded, a civil penalty of $500, which amount shall be paid into the Literary Fund.

SB 657 - Lewis: Excludes from mandatory disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act information held by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority that is categorized as classified or sensitive but unclassified, including national security, defense, and foreign policy information, provided that such information is exempt under the federal Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552).

SB 727 - Stuart: Exempts the judiciary, including courts of record, courts not of record, and the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, from the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The bill directs the Supreme Court of Virginia to develop Rules of Court to govern public access to records in the custody of the judiciary.

SB 730 - DeSteph: Clarifies that the definition of "public record" does not include records that are not prepared for or used in the transaction of public business. The bill defines "social media account" and creates a new discretionary exemption for social media records of General Assembly members when such records relate to the use of a social media account by a member in such member's individual capacity. The bill requires the public body to be a necessary party in any enforcement proceeding.

SB 751 - Sturtevant: Requires every locality with a population greater than 25,000 and each school division with greater than 5,000 students to post quarterly on the public government website of such locality or school division a register of all funds expended, showing vendor name, date of payment, amount, and a description of the type of expense, including credit card purchases with the same information. The bill allows any locality or school division to exclude from such posting any information that is exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, any personal identifying information related to a court-ordered payment, and any information related to undercover law-enforcement officers. The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2019.


Fairfax County’s FOIA information webpage contains a link to its newly established countywide FOIA policy

Delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to support legislation establishing the rules of the House for the 2018-2019 sessions. Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, sponsored the legislation that includes the requirement that legislative staff must record the names and number of those who vote for, against or who abstain each measure. “The incoming Republican leadership felt strongly that recording votes in subcommittees needed to happen, and we were pleased to be able to deliver greater transparency in the legislative process,” Gilbert stated in an email Thursday. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, lauded the House’s action Thursday.
Northern Virginia Daily

Search warrants in two localities provide some more details about the officer-involved shooting in Bassett on Dec. 5. The Bulletin asked Perry on Thursday if the officers involved were still on administrative leave and if so, was it paid or unpaid leave time. Bulletin staff also again asked for the names of the officers involved in the case. “We are not releasing the names of the officers,”Perry said. “One of the officers has returned to work. The other is performing administrative duties within the office. The State Police is still handling the investigation.”
Martinsville Bulletin

At Wednesday night’s Frederick County Board of Supervisors meeting, a county resident asked the board to prohibit newly elected member Shannon Trout from voting on any school-related matters because she is a teacher with Frederick County Public Schools. But county attorney Roderick Williams said Thursday that he doesn’t consider Trout being a board member and a county teacher a conflict of interest.
The Winchester Star
stories of national interest
Fort Smith, Arkansas, will appeal a judge's ruling that city officials violated the Freedom of Information Act by conducting public meeting business through email. The Times Record reports that City Administrator Carl Geffken announced Tuesday that May and August emails between him and three city directors didn't violate the open-records law. The announcement comes despite a court order last week denying the city's motion for summary judgment in a civil lawsuit that alleged Fort Smith violated FOIA.
U.S. News & World Report

Who has the president’s ear? Who’s hitting the links with the commander in chief? And who’s on the outside looking in? The official White House visitor logs keep a record of who sees the president and his staff — but they don’t tell the whole story. POLITICO’s UNAUTHORIZED White House Visitor Logs stand in for the official record, which the administration has decided not to release publicly. To build a better, completely public visitor log, we compiled not just visits to the White House, but interactions that include in-person meetings with the president at Mar-a-Lago and other venues, appearances at events and documented phone calls with foreign leaders and other politicians.

On a rainy afternoon in Abbeville, La., hundreds of people showed up on Thursday to a rally in support of Deyshia Hargrave, a teacher whose arrest at a school board meeting ignited a national backlash. Many of them heeded calls to wear black in support. Speakers said her experience at the meeting on Monday was a clear illustration of educators struggling to make their voices heard. Ms. Hargrave, who took the microphone to chants of “Stand by Deyshia,” said she hoped she would inspire people to show up to their local meetings, and her students to stand up for what they think is right.
New York Times

A U.S. judge is being asked to unseal documents telling what federal agents learned before searching properties belonging to the gunman responsible for the Oct. 1 massacre on the Las Vegas Strip. Prosecutors aren't opposing a Friday request from media organizations for U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey to release redacted affidavits underlying warrants for locations including Stephen Paddock's home in Mesquite, Nevada.

A federal court has unsealed new details about how investigators tried to track down suspected sources for New York Times reporter David Sanger's book discussing how the U.S. and Israel used a computer virus known as "Stuxnet" to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. The documents made public Thursday on the order of a federal magistrate judge indicate that investigators obtained court orders in 2012 to receive information about messages sent and received by at least two former officials on their private email accounts: retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright and another official whose name was not disclosed by the court.

"...we compiled not just visits to the White House, but interactions that include in-person meetings."
editorials & columns
quote_3.jpg"Coupled with the filming and archiving initiative, the Assembly suddenly enters the ranks of legislatures around the country known as leaders in transparency."
KUDOS TO Virginia’s General Assembly for making the public’s business a little more transparent. Starting this past Wednesday, committee hearings will now be streamed live and archived, something that open-government proponents have been seeking for years. Although the House of Delegates is awash with new members this session following last November’s Democratic tsunami, the desire for more openness apparently came from the old guard. A majority of the state’s legislators last year asked that the committee hearings be broadcast from the Pocahontas Building in Richmond, where the lawmakers will meet for the next four sessions while a new General Assembly building is being built. The new policy will be a godsend for those who live many hours from Richmond and want to keep an eye of what their legislators are doing. Anyone with internet access, from Chincoteague to the Cumberland Gap, can view the hearings live or watch them later after they have been archived. It will make it much easier to hold our lawmakers accountable.
The Free Lance-Star

The average American can be forgiven if his opinion of politicians and politics isn’t that high. The behavior of politicians of all ideological stripes hasn’t exactly engendered trust and respect in a lot of Americans. But when politicians set aside their partisanship and pick up the mantle of elected public servants, attention must be paid, and that’s what we are doing today. Earlier this week, we commented favorably on plans announced by leaders of the General Assembly to film, livestream, broadcast and archive all meetings of the state Senate, the House of Delegates and all the committees of the two chambers. The legislature is putting $736,000 toward the project, which has been something open-government advocates have called for for more than two decades. Honestly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this decision by House Republicans. Coupled with the filming and archiving initiative, the Assembly suddenly enters the ranks of legislatures around the country known as leaders in transparency.
The News & Advance