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Possible New Legislation: Transparency Bill in Virginia

January 7, 2014
by Jacque Porte

Virginia state delegate Rob Krupicka has drafted legislation to limit the amounts of gifts local and state officials could accept. The bill would also require regular disclosures to be available in a searchable online database.

The bill should come as no surprise to those familiar with the McDonnell scandal, in which Governor Bob McDonnell came under federal investigation to determine whether he and his wife gave special treatment to Star Scientific Inc., a company whose CEO helped cover catering costs at their daughter’s wedding among other gifts. McDonnell was later forced to return over $120,000 in loans and gifts to the company.

As it stands, a member of the public or press has to go to each clerk to request access to the annual economic interest forms required by Virginia law, and even those forms are only required from state officers and employees. This may be one of the many reasons that the Center for Public Integrity ranked Virginia the fourth-worst state in terms of open government and anti-corruption laws in 2012.

The database required in the proposed bill would provide a searchable list of gifts and economic interest disclosures for local, state officials and employees. The legislation is part of a larger shift to digital government, showing that citizens are increasingly demanding more transparency from their representatives, as well as increased ease-of-access to that information.

"Technology has changed, and we need to catch this system up to the level of technology," Krupicka said.

Many municipalities and schools across Virginia have already started to take advantage of software such as MinuteTraq, which allows them to make agendas, minutes, and other documentation available to the public in an online, searchable database. It’s certainly a step in the right direction that benefits the citizens, who are consistently becoming more active in local and state government, and for employees, who are no longer responsible for filing and maintaining important documents, as well as making that information available to the public.

The bill is just one of many proposed legislative items across the country that seek to increase accessibility to information. These growing transparency requirements promise a change that will bring towns, cities, and states into the 21st century of technological innovation and bolster not only civic participation, but also civic trust.

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