Transparency News, 2/9/2022


February 9, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG's annual
bill chart


Yesterday, the House subcommittee that hears most FOIA bills held its last meeting before the crossover deadline (Feb. 15). One bill from Del. Hudson was struck from the docket. One was incorporated into another (more below). VCOG supported one of the remaining four bills, opposed one and was neutral on the last two. All four advanced to the full committee.

VCOG supported HB 1303 from Del. Wren Williams, which is an identical version of the bill carried three times in the past by Sen. David Suetterlein that makes the votes of the Parole Board public records available under FOIA.

VCOG opposed HB 734 (Del. Rob Bell), which undoes the basic premise of last year's bill on inactive criminal investigative files. The bill's main aim is to protect the families of victims, but in doing so, it would again make access to any and all criminal investigative files discretionary. Based on the past practices of law enforcement and prosecutors, the victim-protection provisions wouldn't even be needed since the standard practice in the past was to deny each and every request for records.

VCOG was neutral on HB 307 (Del. Nick Frietas) that has the laudable goal of making FOIA's fee-assessment provisions better. The bill came in to subcommittee yesterday with a substitute that was unavailable until the subcommittee was ready to vote. A quick glance at it at the time gave me some heartburn because it impacts the 5-day response time and it allows government to charge for the time it takes to prepare a cost estimate.

VCOG was also neutral HB 970 (Del. Israel O'Quinn) to keep the names of donors to 501(c) organizations protected from disclosure. This is identical to a bill carried by Sen. Jill Vogel, and both patrons were receptive to my initial issues with the bill (they changed the very definition of "public records" in FOIA!). The substitute version fixes that problem but still has an issue of being overly broad to catch within it charitable organizations created in the Virginia Code to support public bodies (think: university foundations, economic development partnerships, land banks, etc.). I am still trying to fix this.

The full committee meets Thursday afternoon. Only HB 307 was unanimous, which means the remaining three will be discussed separately, however, there probably won't be any more additional testimony.
Follow the members and agendas for the full committee here


The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday was presented with baskets of affidavits by several students during its meeting after a speaker claimed that the school division failed to respond to a Feb. 2 notice of “maladministration, and demand to cease and desist enforcing what they said are unconstitutional mandates on students.” An LCPS spokesperson confirmed that papers were dropped off, and that staff would examine them, but offered no other comment. Some attendees could be heard in a video posted on social media claiming the School Board was being served. It was not immediately clear what group was behind the effort during the public comment period. Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles District) took an immediate recess as more than a dozen students marched to the front to the front of the audience and faced the board members.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

D.C.’s former police chief is responding to allegations that he kept a watchlist of people who were asking for information that may be embarrassing toward its officers. Speaking at an online community event, Peter Newsham, who is now the police chief in Prince William County, Virginia, was asked if he kept such a list during his time in charge of D.C. police. “There was no watchlist that I created for FOIAs,” Newsham said. FOIA refers to the Freedom of Information Act that reporters and others use to get information from police departments and other government agencies that has not been released to the public. Newsham said he was informed “if information was leaving the building,” so he could be ready to respond. The former head of D.C. police added that he thought criticism of the department actually made it better.

Virginia Beach police arrested two men Tuesday morning on the roof of a Food Lion grocery store, where officials said they were were attempting to cut a hole to gain access to the store’s cash office. Delton Clemmons, 32, and Zachery Bessey, 31, both of Virginia Beach, were charged with burglary, conspiracy, use of burglary tools and attempted grand larceny. The pair, who were using a police scanner app in an effort to evade authorities, are suspected in similar burglaries across Hampton Roads. When the suspects knew officers were dispatched to their location, they attempted to flee the building, police said.
The Virginian-Pilot