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Archive for the ‘General Assembly’ Category

The Virginia Senate this week has decided to move the public’s business farther from the public.

The Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Virginia Press Association, and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government are disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment’s action to refuse to allow journalists onto the Senate floor to cover the General Assembly proceedings, as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Washington Post and others.

Norment has banished the press to cramped quarters where it is difficult to do its job.

The press serves as the public’s eyes and ears in General Assembly proceedings. The public isn’t allowed on the floor, where the action is happening. By banishing the press from the floor, it is harder to hear what is being said, and some of the members cannot be seen from the new vantage point. By being on the floor, reporters can get a better, fuller sense of what is happening by being present on the floor, not relocated to the gallery.

Removing the press from the floor is also a matter of precedent and symbolism. The press has had access to the Senate floor for decades. Removing the press from the floor symbolically removes open government and public oversight. A lawmaking group that pushes the press away to arm’s length also pushes away public scrutiny.

This action comes at a time when the House is ending its practice of impromptu and largely unrecorded committee meetings at members’ desks, a practice the Senate has not ended.

We request that Norment and other Virginia leaders responsible for these changes immediately allow the press to return to its normal working conditions and show their commitment to transparency and open government.

Sincerely,

The Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Virginia Press Association

Virginia Coalition for Open Government

 

 

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Despite opposition from journalism and open government groups, the Virginia State Board of Elections has pushed back the deadline for campaign finance reports to 11:59 p.m. The reports used to be due at 5 p.m. before complains from politicians.

“While the change makes it easier for those who file, it makes it more difficult for reporters who cover campaigns in a timely way,” Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association President Craig Carper told the board, as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The change came without public notice or comment before Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the board to seek public input.  Politicians had complained about the deadline, which has led to fines for multiple campaigns.

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UPDATE: Due to inclement weather in Richmond and areas north, we are working on a new date for tonight’s Sunshine Week event. Thanks for you patience, and we’ll update as soon as we have new details.

– Pat Kane

In celebration of Sunshine Week 2014, SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter members and friends are invited to learn a new tool for uncovering government secrets.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press recently launched iFOIA, a new FOIA letter generator and project management system for handling local, state and federal freedom of information requests. On Monday, March 17 RCFP Freedom of Information Fellow Emily Grannis will make a presentation on taking advantage of this new system.
During the event, we would love to hear about a FOIA-driven project that helped you uncover something in your community. Equally, let’s share the struggles Virginia journalists are encountering with freedom of information requests.
Also, SPJ Secretary-Treasurer Paul Fletcher will offer a recap of action related to FOIA, public notice and other issues during the General Assembly session. For the past two sessions, Fletcher has monitored the legislature on behalf of our membership and citizens.
Our Sunshine Week event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 17 in the second-floor conference room at 707 E. Main St. in Richmond. We hope to see you there! Please RSVP with an e-mail to virginiaprospj@gmail.com so we have a head count for snacks.

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House Bill 95, which would have stripped public notices from newspapers and shifted them to local government websites, died in subcommittee this morning. The bill, filed by Del. Chris Head, R-Roanoke, was opposed by the Virginia Press Association and SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter as a matter of the public’s right to know.

The bill failed 6-3, said SPJ Secretary-Treasurer Paul Fletcher, who spoke against the bill.

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SPJ members are invited to hear from the governor-elect and also question experts about the Affordable Care Act and other health care issues at this year’s Virginia AP Day at the Capital, scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Gov.-Elect Terry McAuliffe is confirmed as our lunch speaker. We’ll also have a panel on health care that will discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act on Virginia. For the remainder of the day, we’ll hear about Ethics/Disclosure and about FOIA.

The day-long session is sponsored by Virginia AP Managing Editors, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Special thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for agreeing to host the event this year.

Registration for AP Day at the Capitol costs just $15 a person and includes lunch. The Times-Dispatch, located at 300 E. Franklin St., will provide parking free of charge. To register for this event, email Marylean Miller at mlmiller@ap.org. Please provide her with the following information:

·         The name of your paper
·         The names and titles of those attending
·         Whether any attendees have dietary restrictions

Checks should be made payable to Virginia AP Newspapers. The registration deadline is Friday, Nov. 29.

AP Day at the Capital – 2013 agenda

9 – 9:30 a.m. — registration and coffee
9:30 – 11 a.m. —  Ethics/Disclosure
Moderator:  Bob Holsworth, managing partner at DecideSmart
Panelists:
·         Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government
·         Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William County
·         Nicholas Kusnetz, reporter for the Center for Public Integrity
·         Rosalind Helderman, Congress and politics reporter for The Washington Post

11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – FOIA
Moderator: Dick Hammerstrom, local news editor, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
Panelists:
·         Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government
·         Maria Everett, senior attorney, Virginia Division of Legislative Services
·         Ginger Stanley, executive director, Virginia Press Association

12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Lunch with Gov.-Elect Terry McAuliffe

1:45 – 3:15 p.m. – Health care
Moderator: Michael Martz of the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Panelists:
·         Doug Gray, executive director, Virginia Association of Health Plans
·         Sen. Emmett Hanger, chairman of the Medicaid and Innovate and Reform Commission
·         Another panelist or panelists still to be confirmed

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The Virginia Pro chapter of SPJ was active during the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly, working to defeat public notice legislation that would curtail the public’s right to know.

The Code of Virginia requires the publication of public notices for a number of government activities, including requests for proposals for building projects, zoning matters or public meetings.

Such notices must be published in newspapers; the papers provide a widely distributed means to get the required information to the public in a timely fashion.

Six different bills this session would have removed such notices from newspapers and allowed instead postings on websites maintained by the state or by a locality.

The chapter, following the lead of the Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, worked against these measures and to maintain the public’s right to know.

SPJVA president Paul Fletcher appeared before committees in the House and Senate three times, providing testimony against several of the bills. The chapter also mounted three email campaigns on the public notice bills.

Several of the bills died in committee. The last of the measures, House Bill 1823, essentially would have moved RFPs filed by localities to the state procurement site, eVA. It passed the House by a 3-1 margin.

But on Feb. 18, it was defeated by a 10-3 vote in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee.

For more information about the bills, see the scorecard maintained by the VPA at its website.

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The FOIA Council subcommittee is considering whether to recommend eliminating the requirement that state or local bodies have a quorum physically present when doing business.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said that her group opposes the proposed change.

Current FOIA rules say state agencies must have a quorum in one location and that localities can’t meet electronically at all except for when a member has an emergency, Rhyne said.

She added that this proposed change wasn’t really pushed for by state agencies or localities.

Nonetheless, the subcommittee will consider the draft legislation tomorrow and make a recommendation to the full council later in the day.

For anyone interested in attending and/or testifying, the council meeting is scheduled for 1:30 tomorrow at House Room D of the General Assembly Building.

The draft is posted here in a document entitled emtgs.

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