Transparency News 7/5/18



July 5, 2018


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state & local news stories


FOIA in full
on VCOG's website

The full text of the 2018-19 Freedom of Information Act is posted on VCOG's website. Many thanks to VCOG's 2018 Laurence E. Richardson Legal Fellow, Andrew Abraham, for compiling and highlighting the changes to this year's law.

Between 2012 and 2017, defense spending in Virginia fell 20%. This year, however, the Pentagon’s budget is up, and just in time the state has introduced a website where communities can find out what that means for them.

The move toward encryption is setting up a debate over who should control the flow of information, and when. Encryption protects sensitive communications, such as an officer’s location or a victim’s date of birth, said Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall. Hall said he thinks officers’ safety and individuals’ privacy outweigh the public’s right to know what is happening. “Both of those concerns are valid,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit that advocates transparency in government. “Neither of those concerns has risen to a level of necessitating cutting off access.”
The Roanoke Times


stories of national interest

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday signed a "clean slate" bill that seals nonviolent criminal records after a decade, a move that progressive groups touted as a first for any state and a national model for planned federal legislation. "This is a really good thing," Wolf said of House Bill 1419, which passed the state House 188-2 in April before being unanimously approved by the Senate last week. All local House legislators voted for the bill. The new law allows Pennsylvanians to seek having their nonviolent misdemeanor records that carried a sentence of a year or more in jail sealed if they have remained out of trouble for 10 years and paid all fines and costs. It also implements automatic sealing of records for second- or third-degree misdemeanor convictions that carried sentences of two years or less if the individual has avoided other convictions for a decade, and for arrest records of those who were never convicted.

Connecticut has passed a law giving agencies a way to deny "vexatious requesters" access to public records. House Bill 5175 was signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy on June 7, 2018. Under the law, a public agency can petition the state's Freedom of Information Commission "for relief from a requester that the public agency alleges is a vexatious requester." From there, a hearing may be held and if the requester is determined to be "vexatious," the agency can deny future requests for up to one year. Next Request, an online records requesting platform, defines a "vexatious requester" as "a citizen who repeatedly attempts to get information from their government through frequent or voluminous requests."
Student Press Law Center




editorials & columns


New research has found that in places where newspapers close, the cost of government rises and economic activity shrinks. Elected officials act without accountability or oversight. Communities wither and struggle. Ultimately, our system of government — our very way of life — is diminished. It is important to note that press freedom and safety in the United States still ranks among the most envied in the developed world. In numerous countries around the globe, the threat to reporters is constant and more severe, and the apparatus of the state is often an instrument of violence and suppression. But we cannot ignore the growing danger to press freedom in this country. The lives lost in Annapolis last week compel us to pay attention — and to act.
The Virginian-Pilot

An independent analysis of the 2015 Jones-Stone deal for a brewery and bistro in Fulton found it cost taxpayers 300 percent more than comparable agreements across Virginia.  Based on my experience, I knew the Stoney-Stone deal didn't pass the smell test. Stone had not used the right structural testing, yet City Hall didn't question it. Stone indicated the building lacked historical value. The city backed the company here too. I knew they were wrong. I paid $261 and got the plans from the Library of Virginia, across the street from the mayor's office. A further search by my historical expert found a wealth of information proving the building's historical value. At all times, City Hall could have likewise found this information.
Paul Goldman, Style Weekly