Transparency News 1/28/19



January 28, 2019


Follow the bills that VCOG follows on our annual legislative bill chart.


state & local news stories




“The time you get with the board is valuable in groups of two, but also it’s an expensive use of time where we’re using staff resources."

This morning, a bill to roll back the exemption for donors who give to universities and their foundations was sent to the FOIA Council at the request of Del. Bulova, the bill's patron, after he secured confirmation from the higher ed lobbyists that they support the concept. Before acting, Bulova consulted with VCOG and many academics, and VCOG urged all parties to attend FOIA Council meetings where discussion of the bill will be held.

The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will have to watch more than 14,000 hours of footage a year when city police arm 450 of their officers with body cameras.  The office calculated it would need seven additional pairs of eyes to review the tape for prosecutorial evidence.  Most prosecutors’ salaries are covered by the state, with localities able to give supplemental pay at their discretion. But the state only pays for so many positions, and the General Assembly hasn’t funded the number of employees recommended by a state board. And prosecutors don’t just have to watch the videos — they also have to redact certain footagethat contains confidential informants, nudity or children, for example. Michael Jay, a House Appropriations committee legislative analyst, said it could take one to three hours to redact a half-hour video.
The Virginian-Pilot

A bill amending the Virginia Freedom of Information Act sponsored by State Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-26th D) was approved unanimously by a subcommittee of the Senate Rules Committee and will now go to the full committee for consideration. After that, it will go to the full Senate for a floor vote. If enacted, SB 1430 would amend the training requirements of FOIA and would require the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council to provide, and local elected officials to complete, training on the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The bill requires local elected officials to complete such training at least once every two years while they are in office. The bill also eliminates the three-day notice requirement for a hearing on a petition for mandamus or injunction alleging a violation of the Act, and contains other technical amendments.
The Blue Ridge Independent
NOTE: The bill will be heard by the full committee today. You can follow along here.

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meetings can last upwards of eight hours between action items, work sessions, public hearings and closed sessions. But behind the scenes, the board also has been gathering with staff to learn more about what members will be discussing in public.  In January, the board voted to move its meetings to the first and third Wednesdays of the month, instead of the current first and second Wednesdays, reserving the second Wednesday of the month for “as needed” work sessions and closed meetings. The board also occasionally holds two-on-two meetings with county staff members to get briefed on upcoming topics.Sometimes, when there was a pressing issue that needed to be discussed with the board in the two to three weeks between meetings, board members would meet with staff in two-on-two meetings. Board members say those meetings help them ask more in-depth questions before the public meeting in a way that doesn’t circumvent the transparency of public meetings. These meetings do not violate Virginia’s open-meeting law. But there can be a trade-off to using two-on-two meetings, County Executive Jeff Richardson said. “The time you get with the board is valuable in groups of two, but also it’s an expensive use of time where we’re using staff resources and asking the board for more face time after they’ve already put in a really busy week and a busy month, and we’re sensitive to all of that.”
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

Kansas legislators are still allowed to take unrecorded votes on legislation in committee and as the House or Senate debate bills despite an ongoing push for greater openness in state government. The Republican-controlled House approved new rules Wednesday for 2019 and 2020 that include a few changes that leaders in both parties said would promote transparency. The GOP-dominated Senate adopted its rules in 2017 and isn’t set to review them again until 2021. Both sets of rules maintain a long-standing practice of allowing committees to take unrecorded votes on bills, leaving no record of how members vote most of the time. Both chambers also can take unrecorded votes on amendments to bills and on advancing them to final action, though final votes are always recorded.

A Connecticut agency that includes the state police is racking up violations and fines due to a nearly two-year backlog in responding to public information requests. For the past few years, the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s backlog has generated a steady stream of complaints to the Freedom of Information Commission, which investigates whether denials or delays of releasing information was reasonable. “The approximately two-year wait is for simple requests, not even for those with exemptions that can be argued about,” said Colleen Murphy, the executive director of the commission. “We’re ratcheting up our response with fines and finding the violation is without reasonable cause. The commission is hopeful that this will get some attention.”
CT Post

A federal judge on Friday ordered lawyers for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to appear Feb. 4 for a closed hearing on whether Manafort breached his plea deal by lying to investigators.




“The approximately two-year wait is for simple requests, not even for those with exemptions that can be argued about.”


editorials & columns



"Norfolk may not want the public to know if a security problem exists at the CSB offices, but they should be more concerned with addressing that question than fighting the folks asking it."

A VIOLENT November incident at the Norfolk Community Services Board office — the city’s public provider of mental health and addiction treatment, counseling and care — raised justified and important questions about the protocol followed in those circumstances.  Was this the only violent incident to take place there? How often are there acts of violence at the office? While a security officer was in the lobby at the time of the Nov. 15 incident, witnesses say she did not intervene, which would seem to be in conflict with statewide CSB policy. Are local officials looking at that as well?   From official channels, silence. The latest development in this misguided attempt to keep things under wraps comes thanks to a request by a Pilot reporter under the Freedom of Information Act. Asked to provide public documents that could shed a light on violence at CSB offices, officials want to charge the paper $56,000 to fulfill the request. Norfolk may not want the public to know if a security problem exists at the CSB offices, but they should be more concerned with addressing that question than fighting the folks asking it.  
The Virginian-Pilot

Like so many other foundations of our Republic, the freedom of the press has uniquely Virginia origins. Despite our historical leadership on this issue, Virginia has fallen behind many other states in our efforts to protect journalists in recent years. At the national level, the trend is similarly concerning. In a 2017 study, the United States ranked only 37th of 199 countries for press freedom. For the nation that enshrined this freedom at the very top of the Bill of Rights, this is hardly a ranking our Founding Fathers would be proud of. As former journalists ourselves, we understand the critically important role that the press plays in our representative democracy. With this in mind, we have introduced two bills in this year’s General Assembly session that will strengthen protections for both student and professional journalists.
Dels. Chris Hurst and Danica Roem, Richmond Times-Dispatch