Transparency News 2/12/19



February 12, 2019


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


state & local news stories




On this week’s episode of This Week in Richmond host David Bailey is joined by Megan Rhyne (Virginia Coalition for Open Government), Andrew Smith (Virginia Farm Bureau Federation), Bob Bradshaw (Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia), Cindy Hosmer (Senator Frank Ruff, Legislative Assistant) ,Patti Dempsey (Senator Steve Newman, Legislative Assistant) and Abbey Philips (Senator Jennifer McClellan, Chief of Staff).


stories of national interest

An Atlanta-based federal appeals court, acting in the case of a 75-year-old Georgia lynching, has reaffirmed the rights of federal judges to release grand jury records that are typically kept secret. The unanimous decision on Monday from an 11th Circuit panel came in one of a pair of cases that legal experts are closely watching for a potential impact on the Justice Department’s latitude to make public the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The three-judge 11th Circuit panel rejected the Justice Department’s efforts to overturn a District Court judge’s ruling that granted the historian and author Anthony Pitch’s request for access to records about the federal grand jury inquiry into the murders of two African-American couples in Walton County, Ga., in 1946.

After her son, Eric, was killed by the police in Los Angeles two years ago when officers mistook a water pistol he was holding for a real gun, Valerie Rivera channeled her grief into activism. She joined Black Lives Matter and lobbied the state legislature to open to the public California’s records on police shootings, which have long been hidden. She wanted, she recently wrote in a court filing, to “understand what really happened, and to advocate for change so that officers do not kill civilians, and are held accountable when they do, so that other families do not have to suffer as mine has.” Her efforts paid off. Under a new state law, Ms. Rivera and other members of the public can now request to see the investigative records, prying open for the first time California’s strict secrecy laws regarding police shootings and serious misconduct by officers. But, just as activists and state lawmakers have sought to bring decades-old investigative records to light, police unions have tried to jam the door shut. While police departments have said they would comply, police unions up and down the state, including in Los Angeles, have filed lawsuits challenging the law, arguing that it shouldn’t be applied retroactively. The union lawsuits have succeeded in some jurisdictions in getting temporary stays from the court.
The New York Times

The names of 14 Planned Parenthood workers and others will remain sealed during the trial of two anti-abortion activists who are charged with secretly recording them, a California judge ruled Monday. The order by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite came in a preliminary hearing in the prosecution of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress. Hite said that he would punish anyone discovered to have published the names of the workers, which were already ordered to remain secret when Daleiden and Merritt were first charged in California in 2017. The judge's order came after an anti-abortion website published the names over the weekend.

North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill to restrict the release of records related to security operations involving “critical infrastructure” — a category that includes fossil fuel pipelines. The bill comes after The Intercept and other media outlets published stories documenting law enforcement surveillance and coordination with private security during the Dakota Access pipeline protests, many of which were based on records released under the North Dakota Open Records Act.
The Intercept




editorials & columns



One should always be suspicious when the government body that makes the laws for everybody else excludes itself from some of those same conditions — especially when it comes to transparency and public disclosure. That’s why it’s refreshing, and tenuously hopeful, to see legislation proposed by the New York governor that would subject the New York Legislature to more of the same terms of the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) that apply to other state and local agencies.  Lawmakers are also considering a number of other important pieces of legislation that would open up government and make it easier for citizens to obtain public records. One major proposal would give citizens access to records such as legislative schedules and nonpersonal correspondence by shifting the Legislature into the executive section of FOIL, which is included in the Public Officers Law.
The Daily Gazette