Transparency News 1/9/19



January 9, 2019


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


state & local news stories




“Once [records are] sealed, we don’t look to see the reason why.”

We've added more than 20 bills last night to VCOG's legislative chart, and there are more coming today (today's the last day for legislators to get their final drafts in), so check again soon.
Among the new bills:

  • HB 2080 proposes a new FOIA exemption for rape kit records.
  • HB 2201 would require the state forester to hold certain records "in confidence" unless directed by the governor to release them.
  • HB 2237 would require public disclosure within 21 days of incentives offered in economic development, including any under FOIA (think Amazon's FOIA clause in its MOU with Virginia).
  • SB 1311 would increase the number of State Board of Election commissioners from 3 to 5, and allow 3 members of the board to talk by phone to prepare for a meeting without triggering FOIA.

Bob McDonnell, 64, who served as governor from 2010 to 2014, filed for divorce on Nov. 2 and the court documents were sealed immediately.  The decision was made by a judge in response to a request from a lawyer in the case, said Nancy White, supervisor of the Circuit Court’s civil department. It’s a rare action in divorce cases, she said. Lawyers must offer a good argument for sealing, she said. “They (judges) don’t take this lightly. Divorces are public record so they are supposed to stay public. But sometimes there are special circumstances.” White did not know why the order was granted in this case. “Once it’s sealed, we don’t look to see the reason why,” she said.
The Virginian-Pilot

After prosecutors filed additional federal charges against the man accused of detonating a pipe bomb in Colonial Williamsburg in November, they requested 30 blank subpoenas to keep the names of witnesses in the case secret. In two filings in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, federal prosecutors submitted requests to the clerk of the federal court for blank subpoenas in the case, according to federal court records.
Daily Press

Staff at Riverside Regional Jail failed to keep close enough watch on an inmate who committed suicide and an officer then falsified the logbook, and proper emergency supplies were unavailable to respond to a second prisoner’s suicide. These were among the concerns cited by state officials in a summary of an investigative report.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Speakers during the Warren County Board of Supervisors public comment period will have to follow a new set of rules. The board at its regular Tuesday meeting approved its meeting policy and procedures guidelines, which it does during the first meeting of every calendar year. Amendments to the rules will give citizens five minutes to speak, which is an increase from a three-minute limit. That time could be increased to 10 minutes at the chairman’s discretion. Every meeting will also have 20 minutes set aside for public comments, which is up from 15 minutes. The rules further stipulate that no person is allowed to speak on the same topic more than three times per 12 months.
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

Horry County, South Carolina, estimated it would cost them $75,500 to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request that other local governments fulfilled for free or less than $50. The Sun News sent out the same request — seeking all records that reference or relate to payments made by, or on behalf of, the public agency to settle actual or threatened lawsuits during the past five years — to the county, Horry County Schools, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Loris, Aynor, Conway and Surfside Beach. Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach emailed The Sun News responsive records for free. Horry County Schools sent a link to a website where responsive records could be found. Aynor responded that it had no responsive records, and Loris responded that it was unable to locate records due to flooding in its records room caused by Hurricane Florence.
Myrtle Beach Sun News

A federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to release tens of thousands of emails and other documents involving the agency’s top-level political appointees — including acting chief Andrew Wheeler — in a move activists hope will clarify how industry interests may be influencing their decisions. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in a Dec. 26 ruling, ordered the release of about 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and 25 Trump officials within the next 10 months. The timeline will start as soon as the federal government fully reopens.
The Washington Post

The recurring dispute over the appropriate degree of secrecy in the Department of Defense arose in a new form last week when President Trump said that certain audits and investigations that are performed by the DoD Inspector General should no longer be made public.
Secrecy News