Transparency News 2/7/19



February 7, 2019


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state & local news stories




VCOG's annual conference is April 11

Yesterday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee cut off the video feed while the committee interviewed the four candidates for a seat on the Virginia Supreme Court. The public was allowed to attend in person. The feed was turned back on for the rest of the committee's agenda. See more about the meeting below.

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The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday interviewed four people who are interested in filling an upcoming vacancy on the Virginia Supreme Court, including the sister of one of the senators on the committee. Earlier in the day, the House Courts of Justice Committee interviewed the same four candidates, including Judge Teresa Chafin, who has served on the Virginia Court of Appeals since 2012. She’s the sister and former law partner of state Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell. On Wednesday, Ben Chafin remained in the room, seated with the rest of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, to listen to his sister’s interview as well as those of the other three candidates. Chafin nodded at his sister while she spoke to the legislators. He didn’t ask questions of any of the candidates. “I’m not going to comment on her interview. I’m a member of the courts committee,” Ben Chafin said when asked why he stayed for the interviews. He also said he would not comment when asked whether he would weigh in on the candidates or advocate for his sister.
The Roanoke Times

A bill patroned by State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, requiring local elected officials to receive training on the Freedom of Information Act passed the Senate. The bill, SB 1431, would require newly elected local officials to have FOIA training within two months of entering office, and then once every two years after that. Obenshain said, “This is a good government and transparency bill that would give every official the same training and overview on all FOIA rules and regulations. This bill ensures that the conduct of business in an open and transparent way is a necessary facet of public service in a free society.”
Augusta Free Press

Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff wrote a three-page letter to Republican State Sen. Mark Obenshain last week warning him that a “little group of citizens in Rappahannock County” engaged in “dirty politics” was behind a provision in a bill introduced by the senator that sought to prevent commonwealth’s attorneys such as Goff from serving as county, city or town government attorneys. As it was, when the bill — SB 1430 — was unanimously approved by the Senate earlier this week the state legislators had discarded the controversial clause pushed by Obenshain, who represents Rappahannock County. The reason behind Obenshain’s opposition to state attorneys serving as local government attorneys isn’t known. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.  Goff observed further that this small Rappahannock gaggle alleges in promoting its FOIA charges that they constitute “Class 3 misdemeanors.” “In twenty or more years of criminal law experience, the acts complained of are most definitely not criminal acts,” Goff told Obenshain, who as senator co-chairs the Committee for Courts of Justice. “The reason there will be no prosecution is not that I have a conflict of interest because I represent the Board and the individual members in the FOIA suit, it is because it is completely absurd and ridiculous to believe that a COIA crime has been committed on these facts.
Rappahannock News

The General Assembly is moving to protect the privacy of people who win the Virginia Lottery — a proposal open-government advocates fear may threaten transparency. Currently, the lottery must disclose the name of anybody who wins more than $600. The Senate passed a bill, SB 1060, allowing any lottery winner to ask that their name be kept secret. The House also approved legislation, HB 1650 — but it would shield the identity only of individuals who won more than $10 million. This week, the House General Laws Committee changed SB 1060 to read like HB 1650 — protecting the privacy of only big winners — and approved it. The revised SB 1060 now goes to the full House of Delegates. HB 1650 is pending before the Senate General Laws Committee.


stories of national interest

An environmental group demanding that Nestle stop pumping millions of gallons of water from a California creek failed to persuade a federal judge that the government should disclose records related to the Swiss company’s bottled water operations.  U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture were justified in redacting and withholding certain records after the government produced thousands of pages plus emails, photos, and videos. In the FOIA case, Judge McFadden ruled that the government had correctly cited exemptions that prevented it from releasing information related to Nestle’s trade secrets and other sensitive corporate data. However, McFadden also found the government should disclose the names of Nestle scientists and consultants who had communicated with the Forest Service. The judge ruled that the public’s interest outweighed the government’s concerns over privacy.
Courthouse News

North Carolina officials said Wednesday they will turn over nearly 800 voter files sought last year by a federal investigation believed to involve voter fraud that sought millions of records. ctions board said it is responding to grand jury subpoenas by providing records for 289 people who previously registered to vote in eastern North Carolina and another 500 people outside the region. The state board had called the subpoenas served on it and 44 county elections boards in August by Raleigh-based federal prosecutors overly broad and unreasonable. Those requests for ballots, poll books, registration applications and other documents totaled more than 20 million records, the state elections board estimated last year.
U.S. News & World Report