Transparency News 7/6/17

Thursday, July 6, 2017

State and Local Stories

When Virginia carries out its next execution, more of the process will be shrouded in secrecy. Virginia is scheduled to give a lethal injection to 35-year-old William Morva on Thursday for the 2006 killings of a hospital security guard and a sheriff's deputy, unless the governor intervenes. Recent changes to the state's protocol mean that if Morva is executed, he would remain shielded from the view of his attorney and media witnesses until after he has been restrained and IV lines that carry the lethal drugs have been inserted in his veins. The new policy has drawn fire from defense attorneys and transparency advocates. They say the public should get to see as much of the procedure as possible to ensure inmates aren't subject to unnecessary pain.
News & Advance

Gifts. Every member of the General Assembly is offered an unending parade of them, everything from coffee mugs and award statues to fancy meals and booze. But ever since former Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted of accepting gifts in exchange for official acts, something has changed in Richmond. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says new disclosure forms show that conviction changed how lawmakers think about gifts. The new disclosure forms show the most popular gift this year was a ticket to the Virginia Agribusiness Council banquet. Tickets were $80 each.

National Stories

Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson has appointed Lee Pope as the state's new open records counsel. Pope has served as deputy open records counsel since October, and played a key role in developing a new model public records policy for government entities around the state. Pope previously worked as general counsel for the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board within the Department of Commerce and Insurance. He takes over from Ann Butterworth, who had led the office since 2014. She will return to her primary role as assistant to the comptroller for public finance.

Forty-four states have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration's election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states. State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation -- from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.
Kris Kobach, the vice chair of President Donald Trump’s controversial election integrity commission, defended the committee’s request for state voter roll data on Wednesday and dismissed reporting about it as “fake news.” The commission, which is tasked with investigating cases of alleged voter fraud, came under criticism from dozens of state officials last week when it asked states to provide it with voter roll data, including details as personal as the last four digits of registered voters’ Social Security numbers. The commission indicated that it planned to publish the data.

Secret FBI information about who funded the 9/11 attacks will remain hidden indefinitely after a Miami federal judge reversed herself last week and decided that the FBI was not improperly withholding it from the public. At the same time, Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled out holding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) trial to evaluate the need for such continued secrecy nearly 16 years after the 9/11 attacks. A trial would likely have included testimony from government witnesses in support of continued secrecy as well as others like Bob Graham, the former Florida senator who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 and believes the FBI documents should be made public.
Florida Bulldog

Way back in March, we awarded the title of FOIA March Madness Champion to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for their swift response to this year’s tournament. This season’s challenge was, in part, to provide us with the letters FOIA appealers had submitted to win their documents, even after they’d been handed a rejection, redaction, or delay. In the Independence Day spirit of civic engagement and disobedience, we took a look through some of the appeals to the SEC and pulled examples of successful pushback. Need a guide to crafting your own response to some common denials from the SEC or other agencies holding back your documents? Here’s your quick how-to in the words of those winning requesters themselves.
Muck Rock