Transparency News 9/13/17

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

State and Local Stories

As the “oldest continuous law-making body in the New World,” the Virginia General Assembly is steeped in history and tradition. That tradition is awe-inspiring on the one hand, while on the other hand, it can seem arcane and cumbersome. Those familiar with the process of making laws in the Commonwealth often take for granted the labyrinthine pathways and breakneck speed a bill travels from its introduction to its final passage or demise. Legislators, staff, lobbyists and reporters somehow manage to stay on top of the thousands of bills and resolutions (2,959 in 2017) that pass through the hallowed halls of Virginia’s State Capitol. This post focuses on watching the process: the committees, subcommittees and the floor session of each chamber. A future post will go over how to follow individual bills through the Legislative Information System.
Megan Rhyne, VCOG’s Truth in the Field Blog

Chesterfield County School Board members have changed their public comment policy. The change will take effect immediately. Instead of being able to comment on each action item, residents can now speak during two public comment periods, as well as on items up for a public hearing. The first public comment period will come before action items and apply only to those items on the agenda. Action items are those on which School Board members vote. A second period, for non-agenda items, will come after School Board members have voted. Speakers will have three minutes to comment during those periods. Five speakers opposed the change at Tuesday’s meeting. Jenefer Hughes, who lives in the Midlothian District, said that sometimes School Board members have to face messages that may not be as positive.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The contentious effort to remove Montgomery County’s circuit court clerk from office is alive again and headed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The court’s decision Friday to hear an appeal in the case came nearly 11 months after a circuit court judge dismissed the removal effort on procedural grounds. It comes almost two years after Democrat Erica Williams was elected to a second eight-year term as circuit clerk court and touched off a storm of criticism by dismissing some of her deputy clerks. The allegations in the removal effort — whether Williams acted wrongly in dismissing the deputy clerks — were not the subject of last year’s circuit court arguments in the case. They also won’t be the Supreme Court’s focus. Instead, the high court is likely to clarify Virginia’s requirements for petitions to remove elected officials.
Roanoke Times

An expert who gave a crash course in free speech law Tuesday to Virginia officials reviewing last month's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville said he believes authorities can restrict weapons as a condition of special-event permits without violating demonstrators' constitutional rights. A presentation from Rodney A. Smolla, the dean of Widener University Delaware Law School and a former law school dean at the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee University, was the main event at the first meeting of a state task force reviewing policies surrounding civil unrest at the request of Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Halifax Planning Commission member Mike Sexton resigned last week from his post on the town’s planning commission, just days before a zoning permit was granted to the county to proceed with historic courthouse renovations. Sexton said Tuesday he decided to resign because he feels he has “gone about as far with the planning commission as I can.” “I feel like because this courthouse renovation project has gotten my interest up, I have become very disturbed about the way the county has excluded the public,” Sexton said. He added, this courthouse controversy has caused him to say things while on the planning commission “that I don’t think it was proper for me to do.” For that reason, he said he has resigned from the planning commission so he can voice his personal concerns without being a representative of the town planning commission.

National Stories

An Arkansas judge has issued a stay in Josh Duggar's lawsuit against Springdale city officials over the release of information related to allegations he sexually abused his sisters while they were children. U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks said in an order issued Monday he would stay proceedings until he rules on the Springdale officials' motion to dismiss the suit based on qualified immunity. Public officials are protected under qualified immunity from being sued for damages unless they violated "clearly established" law of which a reasonable official in his position would have known.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette