Transparency News 3/13/14

Thursday, March 13, 2014

State and Local Stories


A bill offering some confidentiality to witnesses and victims in drug and violent crime cases has passed the General Assembly and is ready for the governor’s signature. State law already allows witnesses and victims in gang-related cases — and their families — to ask the criminal justice system to keep their addresses, telephone numbers and place of work out of public view. The law says law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, defense lawyers, courts, the Department of Corrections and any of their employees can disclose such information only among themselves. The bill just passed by the legislature would extend those same protections to witnesses and victims in other crimes such as the manufacture, sale, or distribution of drugs and violent felonies such as homicides and assaults. However, their names remain public and there are exceptions to the law that can permit a defendant to learn personal information about a witness or victim.
Roanoke Times

Thousands of documents, manuscripts, maps, photographs and rare books from the Museum of the Confederacy will move to the Virginia Historical Society under a new agreement that will make the collection more accessible to the public. The Virginia Historical Society will scan the archive, catalog it and make the historic materials available online.
Roanoke Times

The records management system for the regional will cost more than what officials approved last month but still comes within budget. The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Regional Jail Authority Board held a special meeting Wednesday to vote on a contract for the software, hardware and services. The board approved a contract with Interact for $290,855. That amount covers hardware for the entire facility, software and other services. The board also approved a five-year maintenance and support contract at a cost of $29,911 per year after the first year of service. The total cost of the package, including the maintenance contract for five years, comes to $410,779, Mulligan said. Board Chairman Douglas Stanley, county administrator for Warren County, said the total package cost remains within the authority's means. The board's finance and personnel committee also had discussed the matter at a special meeting held prior to the full board session.
Northern Virginia Daily

National Stories

The National Security Agency has been disguising itself as Facebook servers in order to gain access to the computers of intelligence targets, according to a new report. Citing new documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the online news site The Intercept reported the story.
Wall Street Journal

The Connecticut Senate's top leader escalated his criticism Monday of proposed legislation which, in reaction to the 2012 Newtown school killings, would significantly restrict citizens' right to obtain law enforcement records such as tapes of 911 emergency calls, crime photos and identities of witnesses. Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, urged rejection of the legislation at two legislative committees' public hearings, during which privacy advocates, including lawyers for the 26 Newtown victims' families, debated with freedom-of-information activists over two essentially identical bills to restrict public disclosure. "This legislation is unnecessary. It is not only counterproductive — it is destructive," Williams said in separate appearances before both the judiciary and government administration committees."If enacted, this would result in an unprecedented denial of previously available information, with no necessary relation to witnesses being threatened or endangered, and no relation to the security of an investigation," Williams said."It is a suppression of information for its own sake."
Hartford Courant

More than 2 million people are searching for clues in satellite imagery that could point to the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the jetliner that disappeared Saturday with 239 people aboard while en route to Beijing. The digital search effort is taking place on Tomnod, a crowdsourcing platform from DigitalGlobe, which operates five high-resolution commercial satellites and provides imagery to companies like Google. On Monday, Tomnod and DigitalGlobe kicked off a campaign and invited people to volunteer their time to comb through images for signs of the missing Boeing 777 jetliner.


Virginia’s State Board of Elections wants to move back the filing deadline for electronic campaign-finance reports from 5 p.m. to midnight. The change reportedly was prompted by complaints from a lawmaker whose submission came in 14 minutes too late. Those of us in the newspaper business know a little something about deadlines. One of the things we know is that they are inconvenient no matter when they’re set. Something often comes up at the last minute, whenever that last minute falls. As one skeptic of the change notes, moving the deadline reverses a long-term trend toward greater immediacy. Another points out that the change was made with no public input — which doesn’t jibe well with the board’s public purpose.

In days of yore, journalists lived and died by The Deadline. Old-fashioned deadlines still exist for newspapers' print editions, but in a digital world, every second is a deadline, as reporters rush to post the latest breaking news online before the competition. Politicians have deadlines, too, for filing reports detailing the money they've collected for election campaigns. Rather than trying to beat the competition, candidates would prefer to wait until the last minute in hopes of finding how much their opponent has stuffed in his back pocket before disclosing their own war chest. Under existing rules, their deadline is 5 p.m. on each of the reporting dates scattered throughout an election year. But the State Board of Elections has voted to change the timing, giving candidates until 11:59 p.m. The seven-hour delay is not a threat to democracy, but even a minor change has meaning in the 21st century, when technology has allowed public information to be made accessible almost instantaneously.
Roanoke Times

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, on his first day in office, signed an executive order setting a strict $100 limit on gifts to most executive branch employees and called on Assembly members to enact similarly strict rules for themselves. They failed utterly, but you’d never know it from listening to them. House Bill 1211, sponsored by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, is labeled as ethics reform legislation. In reality, it’s little more than a large fig leaf for legislators. Yes, gifts to senators and delegates are capped at $250 per year — the first time there’s ever been a cap for state legislators, but when it comes to enforcement and loopholes, the bill is toothless. We urge Gov. McAuliffe to use his amendment powers and substantially toughen the bill. Cut the annual cap to $100, do away with the distinction between “tangible” and “intangible” gifts and give ethics council true enforcement and punishment powers.
News & Advance

Fact-checking has become big business. Not only do we have websites covering national politicians and issues, such as, but we also have sites covering state and local. The largest of these is PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times. It has expanded to 10 states, including Virginia. Some newspapers, such as The Washington Post, have set up in-house fact-checking operations. Why has fact-checking become so widespread? Perhaps it is because playing loose with facts has become the norm, an adherence to the Albert Einstein model: "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." I think we've come to expect that politicians and advocacy groups will, given the opportunity, change or simply ignore facts that don't support their position.
Vivian Paige, Virginian-Pilot