Transparency News 4/14/15

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


State and Local Stories

State lawmakers are set to consider this week whether there should be tighter gift rules for elected officialsand looser restrictions on surveillance technology used by police. Legislators are due back in Richmond on Wednesday for the so-called “veto session,” where they will consider vetoes and amendments made by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe's proposal for stricter ethics rules is likely to get top billing, as lawmakers continue to grapple with how to respond to a high-profile corruption scandal involving former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
News Virginian

As baseball season gets underway, here’s a question worth pondering: Who were the heavy hitters in the 2015 General Assembly? For a lead-off hitter, your fantasy team might include Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg: He sponsored seven bills during the recent legislation session – and all of them passed. You can’t bat any better than 1.000. On deck might be Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Lansdowne. Eleven of his 12 bills passed, for a batting average of 0.917. A fraction behind was Del. Edward T. Scott, R-Culpepper: He batted 0.889, passing eight of his nine bills. For a clean-up hitter, try Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, with a batting average of 0.833. Of the 24 bills that Norment filed, 20 passed – more than any other legislator. Capital News Service calculated the batting averages for every Virginia legislator using data from the General Assembly’s Legislative Information Service. CNS tabulated how many bills each lawmaker filed for the 2015 session and then computed what percentage of those bills passed.

National Stories

An Okahoma trial judge has denied a motion to dismiss an open records lawsuit against Oklahoma Gov. Marry Fallin and Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Tompson. The case involves several requests made by Tulsa World Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter under Oklahoma's Open Records Act seeking, among other things, the transcripts of witness interviews conducted as part of the investigation into what happened during Clayton Lockett's botched execution in April 2014, and for email between state officials discussing the issue. Branstetter's requests were pending for seven months before she and Tulsa World filed suit.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Federal Communications Commission's rules for a free and open Internet were published Monday in the Federal Register, putting them one step closer to reality -- and officially subject to lawsuits. The publication of the 400-page Net neutrality order in the federal government's journal of regulations starts a 60-day clock before it takes effect (on June 12). But it also means companies can officially take the FCC to court over the rules. And they didn't waste any time.

Tennessee's attorney general says a bill seeking to make the Holy Bible the state's official book would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the legal opinion issued by Attorney General Herbert Slatery on Monday, a day before the full House is scheduled to vote on the measure sponsored by freshman Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. Slatery in the opinion cites the provision in the Tennessee Constitution that states that "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religion establishment or mode of worship." Slatery says that other state symbols, such as the designation of milk as the official state beverage, "inherently carry the imprimatur and endorsement of the government."
Herald Courier

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced that she will hold a statewide tele-town hall meeting to educate the public about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Rutledge released the following statement: “Arkansas has a strong FOIA that is regarded across the country as one of the best at holding government accountable and helping citizens stay informed. As the people’s lawyer, I am committed to protecting the democratic ideal of an open and transparent government and helping educate Arkansans about the FOIA. I am excited to use technology in an innovative way to help bring Arkansans closer to their government.” The statewide tele-town hall will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. For those interested in participating, please sign up by emailing with your name, telephone number and city. The tele-town hall will be the first in a series of informational meetings, both traditional as well as webcast, to inform Arkansans about the FOIA.

A member of the D.C. Council is questioning plans by the Bowser Administration to keep all footage shot by D.C. police body cameras private. The plan by Mayor Muriel Bowser's office to keep all body camera footage private first surfaced in language in her Budget Support Act. If passed, it would keep the public and the news media from being able to request selected footage recorded by police under the Freedom of Information Act. According to a senior member of the Bowser administration, the plan to keep all footage in control of the D.C. Police Department is geared toward the privacy of individuals and their personal information that might be captured by the camera. In effect, the video would be treated as evidence and would be released on a case-by-case basis.

The State of New Jersey tracks hundreds of workers, gathering data from their cellphones about when they clock in, where they are at any given moment, what route they take to get there, how fast they drive, and whether they make unauthorized stops. In short, supervisors create visual maps of workers' days. State officials say the GPS surveillance of remote workers, such as fire and housing inspectors, helps in responding to emergencies and improving productivity. Workers' advocates counter that this new frontier in workplace monitoring can sap morale and engender resentment toward employers.


The Hampton School Board's secretive search for a new superintendent shows little respect for city parents — at a time when the ailing school system needs all their support. Barely a third of the district's 30 schools — 12 — earned accreditation under Virginia's Standards of Learning model, according to last year's numbers, down from 32 of 33 schools that met or exceeded the state measures in 2008. Hampton schools clearly need someone capable of reversing that trend, leading reform and delivering results. First and foremost on the minds of board members interviewing candidates to replace retiring Superintendent Linda Shifflette should be asking what schools must do to help Hampton kids compete in a global economy. But we don't really know what is being asked because the board has conducted the superintendent search process in relative secrecy, working at the margins of open government law, and in a way that has not engaged the public. Choosing a new schools leader should be an important opportunity to change the conversation about Hampton City Schools, but board members seem determined to squander it. What's more, some of the board's actions may violate the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Daily Press

Argue, if you'd like, with the way University of Virginia officials set the school's tuition schedule for the next few years. Argue with the process used by the Board of Visitors, which allowed for almost no engagement with students or parents. Argue with the $1,000 increases that will hit Virginia families in each of the next two years.