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Peter’s Take: Improving Va. State Government Transparency

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

I have written several columns focusing on how the Arlington County government can improve the transparency of its activities. This column focuses on how the Virginia state government can improve its transparency.

Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state. That rule prohibits localities like Arlington from enacting ordinances unless expressly authorized to do so. For that reason, Arlington citizens have a greater stake in state government transparency than we would have if Virginia were a “Home Rule” state.

Unfortunately, “Virginia has a terrible record when it comes to transparency.” Last year, Virginia received a grade of D for transparency from the Center for Public Integrity:

Virginia again scored poorly on information access, lobbying disclosure and political financing. The state’s Freedom of Information Act has many exemptions, notably including all work conducted by the major regulatory body for businesses, insurance, financial institutions, utilities and railroads, known as the State Corporation Commission.

Discussed below are reforms that would improve state government transparency.

State Senate

The Virginia State Senate continues to hold committee meetings at the desks of Senators on the Senate floor. This practice was discontinued in the Virginia House of Delegates because it lacks transparency. It’s time for the Senate to discontinue the practice as well.

House of Delegates

In the House of Delegates, Democratic Delegate Mark Levine, who represents some Arlington precincts, says he will post on his personal YouTube page videos of all committee meetings about his bills:

By videotaping every one of my bills, which are really my constituent’s bills, I can show them what happened. If they are voted down, they can see who voted them down [and why]. If they were amended, people can see why ….

Kudos to Levine, but why shouldn’t videos of all committee meetings on all bills be made and posted on the General Assembly’s official website?

Executive Branch

Republican Delegate Jim LeMunyon has offered a bill that would overturn a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision that allows state agencies to withhold entire documents rather than redacting only the portions that are exempt from disclosure:

The First Amendment, among other things, says that people have a right to redress grievances. Well you don’t know what to grieve unless you know what the government’s doing. And so this is the way that the people can find out.

Conclusion

Although its budget exceeds $100 billion, Virginia state government has a grade of D for transparency. Regardless of what your positions are on issues like guns, reproductive rights, health care, education or transportation, we should all be able to agree that the state should strive for a much higher grade on its next report card.

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Former participants have this to say:

_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._

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Submit your own Announcement here.

Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.

Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.

About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.

The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.

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Submit your own Announcement here.

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