Transparency News, 9/8/20


 September 8, 2020
There was no issue of Access News Friday, Sept. 4, or yesterday, Sept. 7.



state & local news stories
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When you ask for police records in Virginia — either from three weeks ago or 30 years ago — the response is likely to be the same. “That’s part of a criminal investigative file,” police departments and sheriff’s offices will tell you. In other words, you can’t have it. The criminal investigations exemption to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act is so broad that it protects not only active and ongoing cases from mandatory release, but also long-forgotten cases collecting dust in the file room. Police and sheriff’s offices statewide widely use the exemption to withhold basic police reports, including the officer narratives of recent crimes. And they sometimes use it to deny public access to past files even if they find no crime has been committed. Legislation is now being considered at the General Assembly that would change all that. Sponsored by Del. Chris D. Hurst, D-Blacksburg, and other lawmakers, the bill would mandate that “criminal investigative files” become public when a court case is over — or when it’s been at least three years since police and prosecutors decided not to pursue charges. “We, as the public, consent to be governed and to be regulated in some part by the police,” Hurst said. “But that ’consent contract’ is really being debated right now. And so in an effort to try to restore that contract, I think it’s important for citizens involved in cases to really feel like they can get access to the real information.”
Daily Press

Legislation pending in the General Assembly would, for the first time, allow for the expungement of some misdemeanor and felony convictions in Virginia. Only a small number of states, Virginia among them, do not allow the expungement of any criminal conviction, according to a recent study by the staff of the Virginia State Crime Commission. If made law, Herring’s bill would mean that persons with expunged records may deny or not disclose to any state or local government agency or to any private employer that such an arrest or conviction occurred and shall not be guilty of perjury or otherwise giving a false statement. The release of expunged criminal history record information held in the Central Criminal Records Exchange would be barred under the law unless specifically authorized by law. If asked about someone’s arrest or conviction record, courts and law-enforcement agencies are to respond that no record exists if the record has been expunged.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Loopholes in Virginia’s Conflict of Interests Act could allow local government officials to get away with missing deadlines and omitting information on economic disclosure forms, whether the omission is intentional or unintentional. Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney and Olivia Gabbay, a member of the Economic Development Authority, are under investigation for missing state-mandated deadlines to file the forms. Failing to file the forms on time results in a $250 civil penalty. Eleven board members also missed state-mandated deadlines for smaller real estate disclosures, but the act does not provide any penalties for not those disclosures filing on time. Loopholes in the law create blindspots in oversight on the local level and a lack of penalties for omissions and late filings. The law requires the clerk of local governments to notify officials who are required to fill out a form of that duty. The clerk must collect the forms and contact the commonwealth’s attorney within 30 days if someone does not file one by statutory deadlines. However, the law does not require clerks to inspect the forms for completeness. Local commonwealth’s attorneys, who are responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations, are also only able to review the forms if they are notified of a potential violation. The issue is around completeness rather than accuracy, which is harder to check and investigate because the forms are detailed about retirement plans, investments and real estate holdings. In reviewing 62 forms filed by Charlottesville officials, The Daily Progress found irregularities with at least 10 forms.
The Daily Progress