Transparency News 3/1/19



March 1, 2019


Eventbrite - ACCESS 2019: VCOG's Open Government Conference
April 11 | Hampton University

state & local news stories




“[Subcommittee members] also expressed concerns that this would restrict free speech, because constituents would now be ‘required’ to call the county executive a specific term."

State lawmakers passed a bill this session that allows the Virginia Lottery director to fine people caught reselling winning tickets, a practice commonly done to conceal someone's identity. Experts have said the tactic is used to avoid paying back taxes or child support. The new tool is the latest in a series of steps — including policy changes and multiple investigations — aimed at reforming the lottery's ability to prevent fraud and to scrutinize repeat winners in the wake of a Virginian-Pilot investigation. In September, The Pilot's analysis revealed that 92 people claimed at least 50 tickets worth $600 or more apiece between 2008 and 2016, with some winning hundreds of thousands of dollars at a rate that an expert described as virtually impossible. But the state had no records of investigations into those winners and wouldn't monitor any of them unless prompted by reports of wrongdoing.
The Virginian-Pilot
(NOTE: Simultaneously, the sponsor of one of the above bills and 3 others legislators introduced bills to exempt some/all winners' identities from FOIA.)

Charlottesville City Council will conduct public interviews with three finalists for Charlottesville’s next city manager next week. Councilors will hold the interviews and a meet-and-greet on Wednesday at the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center at 233 Fourth St. NW.
The Daily Progress

Fact: It is against the law in Virginia to refer to a female head of a governing body as anything other than chairman or mayor. Despite an effort to change the law to include chairwoman, chair or chair-at-large, a House of Delegates subcommittee decided in January that the law should remain unchanged. The decision ended with a 5-4 vote that included five men—Republican Dels. Keith Hodges, Riley Ingram, Joseph McNamara, Charles Poindexter and Christopher Stolle—voting against more inclusive titles. “[Subcommittee members] also expressed concerns that this would restrict free speech, because constituents would now be ‘required’ to call the county executive a specific term, as opposed to calling them whatever they liked," said the bill's sponsor, Del. David Reid (D-32nd).
The Loudoun Times-Mirror


stories of national interest

The way that public money earmarked for New York Senate mail is divided among 63 state senators will now be revealed as the Democratic leadership on Wednesday dropped a two-year legal battle waged by their Republican predecessors to keep the information secret. Last year, the Republican-led Senate had appealed a state Supreme Court decision requiring the chamber to provide its guidelines for the taxpayer-funded mailers in response to a Freedom of Information Law request that had been filed by a former Senate candidate. The mail is supposed to promote the work of elected officials but have sparked allegations that the costly leaflets look like campaign literature and benefit incumbents.
Times Union

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.” That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media. Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present — about a November 2015 county road bond. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented. “We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”
The Texas Tribune

Thousands of California law enforcement officers have been convicted of a crime in the past decade, according to records released by a public agency that sets standards for officers in the Golden State. The revelations are alarming, but the state’s top cop says Californians don’t have a right to see them. In fact, Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned two Berkeley-based reporters that simply possessing this never-before-publicly-released list of convicted cops is a violation of the law. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training — known as POST — provided the information last month in response to routine Public Records Act requests from reporters for the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and its production arm, Investigative Studios. But when Becerra’s office learned about the disclosure, it threatened the reporters with legal action unless they destroyed the records, insisting they are confidential under state law and were released inadvertently. The two journalism organizations have rejected Becerra’s demands.
East Bay Times

A federal appeals court has ruled that a judge was too deferential to the U.S. government’s national security claims when he dramatically scaled back a lawsuit charging the FBI with conducting illegal and unconstitutional surveillance at Southern California mosques. The long-awaited decision from a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel is a blow to the government’s use of the so-called state secrets privilege to combat lawsuits alleging illegal electronic snooping. The three appeals court judges unanimously held that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed four decades ago limits the executive branch’s authority to shut down litigation that has the potential to expose sensitive national security information.

The foreign-linked mystery company fighting to avoid handing over records demanded by special counsel Robert Mueller appears to have incurred a fine of $2.25 million as it presses its legal fight, according to court records released on Thursday. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell determined that the daily penalty began being assessed on Jan. 15. In an order that she issued that day, she also noted that the government was “reserving the right to request escalation of the contempt fines.” The newly disclosed court files also show that until recently, both sides in the case were under a broad gag order from Howell requiring them to respond with a “no comment” to any inquiries about the matter. She later relaxed the order to limit them to confirming matters already part of public dockets and court rulings in the case.





"When [Attorney General Xavier] Becerra’s office learned about the disclosure, it threatened the reporters with legal action unless they destroyed the records."