Transparency News 7/1/19



July 1, 2019


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state & local news stories


Many changes to Virginia's Freedom of Information go into effect today. VCOG has incorporated them into its full-text version of FOIA. Preview the changes here.

Starting Monday, if you find a crow, feral swine or coyote in your car on your property in Virginia, you’re legally allowed to take it out or shoot it. That’s just one of nearly 1,900 bills passed during the General Assembly’s regular session this spring. A few hundred become law on Monday and could affect you or someone you know. Here’s a non-comprehensive list. If you win more than $10 million through the Virginia Lottery, you don’t have to publicly disclose your name or personal information.
Daily Press

A facial recognition study that couldn’t determine who was in the racist photo on future Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page drew a two-sentence mention in a 36-page report commissioned by Eastern Virginia Medical School. But details of that study — including who conducted it — have not been made public until now. The Virginian-Pilot and Newport News Daily Press obtained a copy of a one-page document prepared by Ideal Innovations Inc., an Arlington-based biometrics and forensics company. The document summarizes the unsuccessful results of a facial examination conducted at the request of Alston & Bird, a law firm representing Northam’s political action committee. 
The Virginian-Pilot

A federal judge has sanctioned Virginia’s largest school system for destroying or failing to preserve documents relevant to a lawsuit accusing school officials of ignoring a girl’s claim she was sexually assaulted. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff in Alexandria imposed the sanctions June 28 on the Fairfax County School Board as it prepares to defend its actions in a trial scheduled for next month. The judge said the school system either destroyed or failed to preserve relevant notes and text messages from an investigation even though it knew it was required to retain them.  “FCPS respectfully disagrees with the judge’s ruling on both the facts and the law,” the school system said. “The documents in question were inadvertently lost months before we were aware of any threatened lawsuit from the plaintiff.”
Virginia Lawyers Weekly

The cases against two people arrested at an Albemarle County School Board meeting last year can proceed, according to a judge’s ruling. Earlier this month, Albemarle Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins ruled that the charges against Andrea Massey and Francis Richards could stand while also dismissing charges against Sabr Lyon in the same opinion letter. Lyon, Massey and Richards were among six people arrested at an emergency meeting of the county School Board last August that devolved into chaos when the board declined to ban Confederate symbols in the dress code. The defense argued that their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated and that they shouldn’t have been arrested. However, in her opinion, Higgins partially disagreed with these arguments and ruled that Massey and Richards were causing an undue disruption.  While Massey has audibly expressed a disagreement with Acuff, Lyon approached the meeting podium silently. Lyon was not given enough time to leave the podium — approximately two seconds — Higgins wrote.
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

During the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Trump International Hotel in Washington charged the Secret Service more than $200,000 in taxpayer money, including a bill topping $30,000 for two days of use, according to expense documents obtained by NBC News. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request covering Secret Service expenditures, detail money the agency spent at the property from September 2016 to February 2018, which came to a total of $215,254. While the nature of the charges were not disclosed in the documents, the hotel five blocks from the White House has become a go-to venue for Trump and his supporters for various events, including a fundraiser the president attended Tuesday for his re-election campaign. These type of events inevitably require Secret Service detail and heavy use of the property and food services to accommodate and feed personnel.
NBC Washington

The state of Pennsylvania will begin sealing about 30 million criminal records Friday as part of the state’s Clean Slate law, which was passed last year. The law, which Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says is the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to help minimize the damage of old low-level criminal convictions for nonviolent crimes—convictions that can make it difficult for people to get jobs as well as access to housing and education. In order to make that happen, the state plans to systematically scrub the state court database of more than half the charges on the books by next year.

The Justice Department declined on Friday to declassify any more information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act documents related to the surveillance of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. Although the agency acknowledged in a court filing that one barrier to further transparency had expired, more obstacles remain following repeated pro-declassification statements from President Trump and the declassification authority he recently gave to Attorney General William Barr. After dueling memos from Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee in 2018, as well as Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from a number of media outlets and watchdog groups, the 412 pages of redacted Page FISA documents were released on July 21, 2018. 
Washington Examiner

The federal government, corporations, cities and even medical facilities across the country are looking past the needs of blind Americans by failing to address problems with braille signage. CBS News has uncovered complaints to the Justice Department's Disability Rights section about missing or incorrect braille at a number of public facilities, including Albuquerque's bus system, restaurants in Kansas and Pennsylvania, and hospital and medical buildings in Chicago, among other locations. The records, spanning two years, were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
CBS News