Virginia bill opens inactive criminal investigative files to public

A Virginia bill, if signed by the governor, will open more law enforcement records to public inspection. The legislation will open inactive or completed criminal investigative files. Open records and criminal justice advocates say law enforcement agencies have concealed their files, frustrating efforts to hold police accountable and to overturn wrongful convictions. “Departments all over…

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Editorial: Public has a right to see criminal records

Like every other human behavior, crime has consequences, and not only for victims and their families. Perpetrators eventually find out that a criminal record can be a major impediment to getting a job, housing or educational benefits. Efforts currently underway in the General Assembly to automatically expunge certain criminal records in Virginia are an attempt…

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Former Journalists Push Press Freedom in Virginia House of Delegates

The Virginia General Assembly now has two former journalists as members, and they are hoping to move forward with bills to increase press freedom. High school newspapers shouldn’t be bullied or told what to do by principals and administrators. That’s the idea behind a bill introduced by Delegate Chris Hurst, a Democrat from Blacksburg who…

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Judge rules Virginia’s judiciary not subject to FOIA

A retired circuit court judge has ruled the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the state’s judiciary, a ruling that could potentially hinder access to records of the judicial branch of government, like expense reports or phone bills. The Oct. 15 ruling by retired Judge William Alexander II came in a dispute…

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Numerous phone-in Charlottesville council meetings held before policy instated

Charlottesville city councilors appear to have improperly phoned in to numerous meetings, including those dealing with hiring of an interim city manager. In August, the council passed a policy — apparently for the first time — allowing councilors to phone in to meetings in certain situations. Since 2014, state law has required local public bodies…

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FOIA emails show concern about Pittsylvania County (VA) DSS board

Email records obtained by the Star-Tribune through FOIA requests from Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services Director Sherry Flanagan from August 2017 indicated Flanagan was ‘fearful’ of county administrator David Smitherman and worried her board would be eliminated. On August 15, 2017, Brenda Robertson, Administrative Assistant/Legal Assistant for County Attorney Vaden Hunt emailed Flanagan to, “please forward…

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Va.: New Laws Would Help and Hurt Access to Information

For advocates of government transparency, the General Assembly's 2017 session was a mixed bag, resulting in bills that both increased and decreased information available under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, the session saw fewer FOIA-related bills than in past years. Even so, the group stayed busy opposing legislation that Rhyne said would keep important information from the public.

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Va.: Lawmakers vote for four ways to increase government secrecy

bill that would make deliberately ignoring citizens' Freedom of Information Act requests a firing offense died in a state Senate committee Monday.

The Senate General Laws committee also voted to shield records related to bingo and other charitable gambling supplies, as well as making confidential engineering and construction plans for single-family houses filed with local building officials to ensure compliance with state building codes.

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Virginian-Pilot editorial: Be a force for openness in government

It’s optimistic to believe that this (or really any) legislative session in Virginia will make a turn toward openness and away from punching holes in the law that ensures public access to documents and meetings.

But maybe, just maybe, this could be a session where lawmakers choose to hold the line on those principles and act with deference toward the people’s right to know.

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