Transparency News 5/12/14

Monday, May 12, 2014

State and Local Stories

A local union official has produced emails that show he informed a key Isle of Wight Schools staff member about the federal wage requirements involved with a school construction project — an overlooked provision that has prompted a federal investigation. An investigation by the Daily Press recently found that the contract for the construction of the Georgie D. Tyler Middle School in Windsor did not include federal minimum wage clauses required by a federal law for jobs that are funded by federal dollars.
Daily Press

There's a reason you can't flash a toothy grin when you take that driver's license picture. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is compiling a database of pictures ripe for facial recognition comparisons — the high-tech computer analysis that can compare millions of faces and come up with a match. The crime fighting tool is no longer the stuff of Hollywood. The FBI uses it. So has the Virginia Beach police department. Many states allow law enforcement wide access to their drivers license image databases.
Daily Press

The controversial comments made by a Roanoke County supervisor following a ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow sectarian prayer at public meetings has caught the attention of the very group that lost its case before the court. In a letter addressed to Roanoke County Attorney Paul Mahoney, the non-partisan Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the county would risk exposing itself to a legal challenge if it implemented a prayer policy proposed by Hollins District Supervisor Al Bedrosian. In the letter, the group described Bedrosian’s proposal as discriminatory and out-of-sync with the high court’s decision. Upon the release of the court’s decision on Monday, Bedrosian said he would advocate a policy that would make the five elected supervisors responsible for finding and approving people to offer the invocations at the start of each government meeting. When asked if he would approve non-Christians from his own district — including Jews, Muslims or atheists — Bedrosian said he would not.
Roanoke Times

A state computer system failure affected operations at 10 state agencies Friday, according to the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. A number of computer servers disconnected from their data storage system about 9:30 a.m. Friday, VITA said. Such disconnection stops the computer server system from working.

The Richmond School Board is finally entering the digital age. The elective body will begin using BoardDocs in July, giving it an online forum for sharing everything from schedules to meeting notes to the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentations it receives at every meeting.

Hampton Roads city employees’ salaries

National Stories

The public doesn’t have a right to information on criminal cases involving warrantless cellphone tracking if the defendant was acquitted or had their case dismissed, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled Friday. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuitfound the defendants’ privacy rights outweighed the public’s interest in understanding the scope of warrantless cellphone tracking by the government. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. Department of Justice for case names and docket numbers of prosecutions where the government got a court order, but not a warrant, to obtain cellphone data.

Massachusetts' highest court ruled Friday that leading students in the U.S. pledge of allegiance—including the words “under God”—does not violate the state constitution’s equal-protection clause or a state law barring religion-based discrimination in the public schools. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected a challenge brought by Jane and John Doe, described in court documents as atheists and humanists whose children attend public schools in Acton, Mass., or in the Acton-Boxborough regional school system.
National Law Journal

One U.S. Supreme Court justice referred to Netflix as “Netflick.” Another seemed not to know that HBO is a cable channel. A third appeared to think most software coding could be tossed off in a mere weekend. These and other apparent gaffes by the justices during oral arguments have became a source of bemused derision, as tech aficionados, legal experts and others have taken to social media, blogs, YouTube and other outlets to proclaim the justices black-robed techno-fogeys.

The number of companies, associations and other groups lobbying on data and cybersecurity issues has nearly tripled since 2008, according to a review by Capitol Metrics, a lobbying analytics firm. The number of lobby firms advocating on behalf of clients on data and cybersecurity issues also tripled in the same period. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of companies, trade associations and other groups lobbying on data or cybersecurity matters climbed steadily from 108 to 321, and dipped slightly in 2013 to 314. Those figures reflect lobbying activity by companies’ in-house lobbyists who listed “data security,” “cybersecurity” or “cyber security” on lobbying disclosure forms.
Washington Post


Short of rewriting the Virginia Constitution, there is no better way to recast the relationship between citizens and state government than overhauling the Freedom of Information Act.The law enables oversight of officials who operate on the people's behalf, spends public money and should be subject to scrutiny. Last month, officials began a thorough review of the legislation, looking for ways to streamline it and improve how it functions for the public. We applaud the commitment to this long-overdue effort but we cannot help but be disappointed in its backwards approach, which will review the law as it exists rather than starting with a clean slate. When the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, they constructed a document which limited the size of government. This perspective intended to reserve all additional rights to the states and citizens, narrowing the federal scope to only specifically enumerated powers. Virginia's FOIA should be designed similarly. 
Daily Press

The court's narrow conservative majority reasoned that the absence of such constraints would do no real harm to people of minority faiths and nonbelievers. However, the majority did not sweep away the constitutional ban on a government establishment of religion. Yet this is what first-term Hollins District Supervisor Al Bedrosian is itching to do in the decision's aftermath. And woe unto that county politician who dares not stand foursquare behind his, to put it kindly, muscular brand of Christianity. As a measure of accountability to the public, Bedrosian wants individual supervisors to pick people in their districts to open the board's meetings with prayer. Accountability about . . . what? Freedom of religion, so long as it is his.
Roanoke Times

Today could prove decisive. Friday’s Times-Dispatch reported that the Richmond Economic Development Authority will hold a Monday meeting during which “the administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones has said it hopes to present a finished [stadium] plan to the City Council.” The time has come.A lack of transparency has clouded the debate since it commenced during the infancy of the late Abner Doubleday. Although private interests make strong arguments that issues with proprietary implications cannot always be negotiated in full sunshine, deals involving the public sector raise transparency questions that might not apply to deals exclusively between private companies. An absence of specifics regarding the package for Shockoe Bottom has not helped the cause.

After months of oversight and collaboration between members from both sides of the aisle, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation to address concerns surrounding our nation’s intelligence gathering programs. The bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361), which was unanimously approved by a vote of 32-0, would reform certain national security programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, over which the Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, News-Virginian