National Press Club Worries Virginia Bills Harm Transparency
February 15, 2016 | By Ferdous Al-Faruque
Two bills moving through the Virginia General Assembly threaten to bar journalists from easily accessing data on state and local employees.
The bills have the potential to significantly damage the press' ability to hold public officials accountable.
On Feb. 8, Senate Bill 552 cleared the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in a 8-7 vote. The bill sponsored by state Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, would bar state and local governments from disclosing employee names when releasing annual salary figures.
Similarly, Senate Bill 202, sponsored by state Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, would remove public employee names from government electronic databases. That would make it harder for journalists to analyze and search them, though those names could be released upon request. The bill is in response to concerns public employees were being targeted by identity theft and criminals were filing false tax returns using information from the database.
“Democracy depends on transparency and accountability, and these bills, if written into law, would weaken both,” said Thomas Burr, National Press Club president. “We urge Virginia lawmakers to take a deeper look at these bills and consider the long-term damage they could have on their constituents and find alternative solutions.”
The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. Through its Press Freedom Committee, the club promotes transparency and defends press freedom worldwide.
John M. Donnelly--chairman, NPC Press Freedom Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org; 202 746 6020.