Transparency News, 2/22/2022


February 22, 2022

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The Virginia Senate will consider a bill the House passed that would significantly scale back a 2021 law that allows public access to closed police investigative files. Democrats passed the law when they controlled both houses of the legislature after it was recommended by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a panel of lawmakers and citizen appointees that scrutinizes the state's open records laws. Parents in two high-profile murder cases have feared that the law will allow news media to obtain new records about the cases, and said that would further traumatize the family members of those who were killed. The House of Delegates earlier this month passed a bill from Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, that would essentially undo the 2021 law and again give police agencies and Virginia's elected prosecutors discretion over what to release, said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Bonds for the Win’s claims are not legitimate, according to education officials, insurance companies and the FBI. But even though the group has won no legal battles, it has already celebrated some successes in overwhelming districts with paperwork, intimidating local officials and disrupting school board meetings.  The school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, briefly shut down its Feb. 8 meeting when a group of parents and children tried to serve paperwork on board members. The paperwork included notarized letters with a lengthy list of complaints — including alleged discrimination against white students and unvaccinated children — and said if the board didn’t respond within three days, the district would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution that couldn’t be appealed in court. The U.S. Department of Education said in a statement that it has never suspended access to federal funds after a claim was filed against a school district’s surety bond.
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Sparing parents whose children die in grisly sexual assaults and murders makes sense. So does protecting rape survivors. Frankly, protecting all victims of crime from being retraumatized remains a fundamental goal of the justice system. Critics of Bell’s bill offered several reasons for their opposition. One objection was the fact that the new open records provision had only been in effect for seven months. It was, they said, too soon to tell if the ongoing existing safeguards against disclosure are insufficient. The new law did not overturn long-standing provisions that shield most records in ongoing cases. In closed cases, opponents continued, the public availability of closed case files did not include the release of crime scene photos or information that invades the personal privacy of victims. Underlying this fight is if and how resealing closed case files benefits the police. This debate is a sad, but necessary discussion on the current state of affairs in Virginia and every other state. 
The Daily Progress