Say yes to transparency

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Government transparency and accountability are getting a bit of attention in Richmond these days. Unfortunately not all of that attention is good, in that some of the legislation proposed for the General Assembly would actually make government less transparent and push citizens further outside of processes that should take place only under a spotlight.

Following are a few things to look for during this General Assembly session, along with our take on the issues:

  • House Bill 2223, introduced by Del. Rick Morris (R-Carrollton), would make any officer, employee or member of a public body convicted of a willful and knowing violation of certain Virginia Freedom of Information Act provisions guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Our position: We support any measure that further enforces both the letter and the spirit of the law as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act. We support this bill.

  • House Bill 1438, introduced by Delegate Richard Bell (R- Staunton), allows local governments to use alternatives other than a newspaper of general circulation to publish required public notices. Localities would have the option of selecting any two of the following methods: (i) in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality, including such newspaper’s online publication, if any; (ii) on the locality’s website; (iii) on any public access channel operated by the locality, to be aired during prime-time programming and at least two other times during the day; (iv) using any automated voice or text alert systems used by the locality; or (v) posting at the local public library established pursuant to § 42.1-33, if any.

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Our position: We oppose this and any other measure that would seek to restrict a citizen’s access to information about the operation of local government. In a recent poll conducted by the Virginia Press Association, 63 percent of respondents said that they would read public notices less often if these were placed only on government websites, and 72 percent of respondents have not gone to a government website to read a public notice. We oppose this bill.

  • House Bill 1405, introduced by Del. Christopher Head (R-Roanoke), allows localities with a population of 50,000 or greater to meet public notice requirements by utilizing their websites, radio or television instead of local newspapers.

Our position: See HB 1438 above. We oppose this bill.