Transparency News 2/22/18

 
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Thursday
February 22, 2018
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state & local news stories
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A meeting of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission scheduled for Wednesday night has been postponed after the organization that was set to host it said it was not originally told the meeting had to be open to the public. The meeting was postponed at the request of Historic Richmond, which had asked to host the meeting with commission members at its Monroe Ward office to give feedback on the future of the Confederate monuments lining Monument Avenue.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The recent mistrial and dismissal of charges against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez made it clear that juries don't consider gifts between friends, no matter how valuable, to be proof of corruption. More importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2016 ruling in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has substantially increased the burden on prosecutors. Since the McDonnell ruling, a number of high-profile corruption convictions have been thrown out -- notably those involving Dean Skelos, the former New York Senate majority leader; Sheldon Silver, the former New York Assembly speaker; and William Jefferson, a former Louisiana congressman who stored $90,000 worth of bribe money in his office freezer.
Governing

 
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national stories of interest
In the quest to land Amazon's second headquarters with its juicy 50,000 jobs and potential $5 billion investment, cities have made some eye-popping proposals. Maryland's transportation chief, for instance, promised a "blank check" -- an offer that has since been walked back -- and Newark, N.J., pledged a whopping $7 billion in tax breaks. But according to a Governing analysis of the 20 finalist cities in Amazon's HQ2 search, some are already forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue each year through tax incentives and might not be able to afford to give up more. The data on incentives is available thanks to a new accounting standard that went into effect last year for government financial reports. Governing used data compiled by the subsidy tracker Good Jobs First and referenced financial reports from 18 of the 20 finalist cities. (Toronto and Northern Virginia were not included because the rule doesn't apply to a foreign government and the Northern Virginia region encompasses several governments.)
Governing


Soon after the 2018 session opened, passionate talk of making Kansas government more transparent echoed through the state Capitol. Lawmakers issued press releases, attended town halls and held news conferences vowing to bring more openness to one of the darkest states in the country. They introduced measures calling for everything from banning the practice of anonymous bills to releasing information after a child dies of abuse or neglect. A cry for transparency in Topeka came after The Star revealed in a mid-November series that Kansas has one of the darkest state governments in the nation. The series found that more than 90 percent of the laws passed in the last decade stemmed from bills whose authors were anonymous. That means Kansans don’t know who pushed the measures and why. The series also revealed the common use of a tactic called “gut-and-go,” in which lawmakers strip the language in a bill that’s usually already passed one chamber and replace it with a totally unrelated measure. And when it comes to child welfare, The Star found that the state agency often cloaks its involvement with child tragedies, even shredding notes after meetings where children’s deaths are discussed. The series also revealed the common use of a tactic called “gut-and-go,” in which lawmakers strip the language in a bill that’s usually already passed one chamber and replace it with a totally unrelated measure. And when it comes to child welfare, The Star found that the state agency often cloaks its involvement with child tragedies, even shredding notes after meetings where children’s deaths are discussed.
Kansas City Star

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of nine media organizations are asking a North Carolina appeals court to overturn an unprecedented lower court ruling that allowed nearly all court records in a civil case to be filed completely under seal. The docket, names of both parties and their lawyers, and sealing orders are all secret in the case, Doe v. Doe, essentially concealing its very existence. The Fayetteville Observer brought a lawsuit to unseal the records after it discovered the case involved a prominent local businessman who had reached settlements with multiple minors over allegations of sexual abuse.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
 
PopUplogoMarch 16, 2018
Virginia Credit Union House
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editorials & columns
quote_3.jpg"The real objection is that UVa and W&M don’t want their boards to endure the tedium of hearing the little people bitching about tuition."
The Department of the Interior, under Secretary Ryan Zinke, wants to stop the public from “interfering” with its ongoing efforts to hand control of America’s public lands over to commercial and industrial interests. According to a report finalized in September and leaked to the Washington Post last week, the department plans to eviscerate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and explore other ways of clamping down on public involvement.  In addition to gutting NEPA, Zinke’s plans to cut the public out of public lands include weakening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). FOIA is critical to government transparency. It enables the public to see the paperwork behind a project and thus better understand the decisionmaking process. Interior’s recommendations would amend FOIA to “limit the number of … requests from any one group” and require “more stringent justification for fee waivers.” Regional and community-based watchdog groups, many of which can’t afford to buy access to public records, depend on FOIA’s fee waiver provisions.
Scott Lake, The Hill

Barring a Lazarus-like resurrection from the dead, a bill that would require Virginia colleges and university boards to allow public input on tuition increases has been killed in the state Senate. The bill won approval in the House of Delegates 99 to 0, sailed through the Senate Committee on Education and Health 14 to 1, but died in the Senate Finance Committee on a 13 to 3 vote. Bacon’s bottom line: Seriously? Affordability and access are the most important issues facing higher ed today. Student indebtedness, a direct result of unaffordability, is creating a social crisis so acute that President Donald Trump now is contemplating allowing students to discharge their debt through bankruptcy, thus foisting tens of billions of dollars of liabilities onto taxpayers. The real objection is that UVa and W&M don’t want their boards to endure the tedium of hearing the little people bitching about tuition. Virginia’s colleges and universities, especially its elite colleges and universities, need more transparency and accountability. Their arrogance will haunt them.
James Bacon, Bacon's Rebellion

 

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