Public Comments for 01/31/2023 General Laws - Subcommittee #4
HB1898 - Virginia Public Procurement Act; prohibition on boycotting Israel.
Virginia Faith and Freedom would like to express our strong support for bill HB 1898. The Virginia Public Procurement Act is a protection of human rights and prevents the promotion of anti-semitism in the Commonwealth. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, Virginia has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country with a total of 150,620 followers. To date 35 states have adopted laws to discourage boycotts against Israel. Even Virginia itself has already passed a resolution condemning the actions of the BDS movement. HB 1898 is the next step to further prevent this current injustice from occurring.
Mr. Chairman, I'm Rabbi Eric Fusfield, Director of Legislative Affairs at B'nai B'rith International and a member of the Virginia Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism. I join this discussion to speak strongly in favor of legislation prohibiting anti-Israel boycotts. This is not a free speech issue; rather, this is a matter of withholding Virginia's economic support for an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic movement that does not represent the Commonwealth's values. BDS is not simply about criticism of Israeli polices. To understand what BDS represents, you need only to listen to the movement's founders and leaders describe their central goal, namely, the elimination of the Jewish state. According to Omar Barghouti, "Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine." And according to As'ad AbuKhalil, "The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel...That should be stated as an unambiguous goal." This objective helps explain the movement's use of the most hostile allegations with which to demonize Israel, such as apartheid or ethnic cleansing, in order to relegate the Jewish state to pariah status and weaken its place in the international community. BDS spreads anti-Semitic tropes, dehumanizes Israelis, and undermines Middle East peace and reconciliation. Virginia must say no to BDS and yes to HB 1898. Respectfully, Rabbi Eric Fusfield B'nai B'rith International Arlington
Dear Delegates, My name is William Walls and I reside in Arlington, Virginia. I am a retired U.S. Government Foreign Service employee and a strong believer in human rights. I like to review bills as to who or what organization is behind it and who or what entity benefits from it. I am writing to ask you to vote NO on HB 1898 “Virginia Public Procurement Act; public institutions of higher education; prohibition on boycotting Israel; civil penalty” because HB 1898 would be bad for business, bad for civil rights, and bad for human rights. HB 1898 would amend the Virginia Public Procurement Act to prohibit public bodies from contracting or subcontracting with businesses that “engage in a boycott of Israel, its instrumentalities, or any of its territories.” As such, this bill clearly aims to restrict our Constitutional right to free speech, including the right to criticize any government, foreign or domestic. According to the ACLU Virginia, “Government contract restrictions cannot be based on the desire to punish First Amendment activities that aim to influence public opinion on our nation’s policies. Accordingly, federal courts have repeatedly found that bills targeted at restricting boycotts of Israel—bills identical in substance [to HB 1898]—violate the Constitution.” More specifically, I ask you to vote against HB 1898 for the following reasons: This bill would essentially require companies and individuals doing business with the Commonwealth to sign a loyalty oath to a foreign government, subject to serious penalties. Imposing a loyalty oath on government contracts would be antithetical to the ideals of a free market and an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. It reintroduces a bill which has already been twice rejected by the General Assembly in 2016 and 2022; and It would have a chilling effect on legitimate and constitutionally protected criticism of Israel and Israeli human rights abuses. Freedom of speech is vital right for a functioning democracy. As George Washington stated in his address to the Officers of the Army, on Saturday, March 15, 1783: if "freedom of speech may be taken away, [then] dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter." The people sponsoring this bill have no respect for human rights for the Palestinian people in the West Bank. The people or entity that would benefit from this legislation is the state government of Israel and its supporters. Why the state of Virginia is getting involved in foreign affairs is beyond the scope of Virginia legislation. Based on all the reasons listed above, I ask that you vote NO on HB 1898 to affirm that all Virginians and businesses have the right to free speech, including the right to participate in boycotts to support human rights and social justice!
Please support this bill to prevent public bodies of the Commonwealth and public institutions of higher education from boycotting Israel. The BDS movement (boycott, divest and sanction) should not be allowed to demonize the one democracy in the Middle East.
As a Virginia resident and taxpayer, I ask that you vote NO on HB1898, Virginia Public Procurement Act prohibition on boycotting Israel. This bill is a clear attempt to silence those who speak up for the human rights of Palestinians who are being subjected every moment of their lives to a brutal and illegal Israeli government Occupation. It has nothing to do with the Jewish right to self-determination. I fully support that right. It has nothing to do, as those who support this bill suggest, with harming the state of Israel within its borders. I fully support the right of Israel to exist within its borders. If I, as business-owner or individual, choose to boycott Israeli companies doing business in the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, it has everything to do with taking a stand against oppression and human rights violations -- taking a stand for the basic human rights to freedom, security of person, and self-determination for all people. This bill is a clear attempt by a foreign entity, the government of Israel, to shield itself from criticism of its actions in Occupied Palestine. It has no business in U.S. domestic law and is an infringement on my First Amendment rights. I visited Israel and Palestine in 2019 on a dual-narrative tour. I witnessed the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians. I was shocked and deeply saddened by what I learned. Most Americans have no idea about the realities of life on the ground there. To name just a few things, there are two sets of roads, two sets of laws, and two sets of municipal services. Palestinians are rarely granted building permits while Israeli settlements continue to grow at a burgeoning pace on their land. Palestinians are not granted regular access to clean, running water because the Israeli Government chooses to route it to the settlements instead. Palestinians are asked to step aside as their homes and schools are demolished by Israeli bulldozers at an increasingly alarming rate. Entire villages have been at risk of being wiped entirely off the map. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has documented over 9,000 demolitions conducted by Israeli authorities in Occupied Palestine. In other circumstances, such actions would be labeled war crimes, ethnic cleansing, apartheid. Yet, for the government of Israel, we make exceptions. Why? We need to have free and open debate about what is happening in Israel and Palestine without restrictions on the forms such peaceful expression or protest may take. We need to be cognizant of the rights to freedom and self-determination for all persons everywhere. Boycotts are the oldest form of peaceful protest known in our democracy. This bill is asking anyone doing business with the Commonwealth to take a loyalty oath to the government of Israel. How can this possibly be good for prospects for real peace and security in Israel and Palestine? How can this possibly be good for business and what place does this have in U.S. domestic politics? I believe we are heading down a slippery slope if we allow this bill to pass and that the very foundations of our democracy and the values that we hold most dear are at stake.
Please pass HB1898 - Anti-semitism must be stopped. Anti-semitism is unamerican. BDS is not a positive organization. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
I am in favor of HB1898. It ensures my taxpayer dollars are not subsidizing an antisemitic effort to boycott the one and only Jewish state. HB1898 is NOT unconstitutional! And HB1898 does NOT constrain an individual’s right to boycott Israel. It only pertains to businesses that want to sign a contract with Virginia that have more than 10 employees and the contract is >$100K. More importantly, it is only relevant when the contract is in effect, so that business can boycott Israel, just not during the period of the contract. Please vote YES on HB1898!
I am writing to ask you to vote NO on HB 1898 “Virginia Public Procurement Act; public institutions of higher education; prohibition on boycotting Israel; civil penalty.” HB 1898 would amend the Virginia Public Procurement Act to prohibit public bodies from contracting or subcontracting with businesses that “engage in a boycott of Israel, its instrumentalities, or any of its territories.” As such, HB 1898 would be bad for business, bad for civil rights, and bad for human rights. How is HB1989 bad for business? Procurement of goods and services for the commonwealth should be based on the best value for Commonwealth and for our tax money, not on who is willing to sign a loyalty oath to a foreign government. How is this bill bad for civil rights? Our civil rights include freedom of speech, including the freedom to boycott. Article I Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia states that “the General Assembly shall not pass any law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, nor the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.” The first Amendment of the US Constitution also guarantees free speech, as does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the United Nations. According to the ACLU Virginia, “Government contract restrictions cannot be based on the desire to punish First Amendment activities that aim to influence public opinion on our nation’s policies. Accordingly, federal courts have repeatedly found that bills targeted at restricting boycotts of Israel—bills identical in substance [to HB 1898]—violate the Constitution.” How is HB1898 bad for human rights? This bill is clearly targeted at silencing human rights advocates and organizations because of their criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Those seeking to boycott Israel are doing so in support of human rights, as all the major human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the premier Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, have stated unequivocally that Israel is committing massive human rights violations, including Apartheid which is a crime against humanity. Freedom of speech is a vital right for a functioning democracy. And boycotts are an American tradition - from the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery Bus Boycott - and are a widely celebrated form of peaceful protest traditionally employed by those whose voices have been ignored. The boycott of Israel should not be an exception to our nation’s documented history of participating in similar actions for human rights and social justice. Based on all the above, I kindly ask that you vote NO on HB 1898 to affirm that all Virginians and businesses have the right to free speech, including the right to participate in boycotts to support human rights and social justice! Sincerely, Paul Noursi Vienna, VA
Vote NO on HB1898. Again, whatever amendments were made to HB1898 did not clean up this bill. It very similar to last year’s HB1161, which was also submitted by Delegate McGuire. It still has all the language which would force certain contractors with the State of Virginia to agree to refrain from boycotting Israel. It is still in violation of the First Amendment right of free speech which protects boycotts. Also, I applaud Delegate Wampler for his statement that this does not belong in Virginia law – it is a federal issue. I respectfully ask him to switch his vote in accordance with this statement, remembering that last year’s similar bill was tabled. The companion bill was defeated in the Senate so there is no need to waste further time on this. I am sending several other pieces of information to show that the Jewish community is not united on this bill. The Jewish community is not a monolith. There is a long list of Jewish organizations and individuals who oppose the codification of the IHRA definition. These organizations include Jewish Voice for Peace (of which I am a member) as well as many other Jewish organizations such as J Street (the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans), T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Americans for Peace Now with its 1000 supporters (Jewish and non-Jewish) within the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am not alone in my opinion on this bill. In keeping with the highest ethical standards of my religion and in supporting the constitutional right to free speech, I urge you to vote NO on HB1898 I am also providing an article printed in a recent issue of the Richmond Jewish Reflector, which is published by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. I am submitting the article as an attachment. The important paragraph here states that the makeup of the Governor’s Commission was biased from the very beginning, and that in fact, the Jewish community is not all of one voice. And please be sure to note that this article was printed in a publication of the Richmond JCRC. I quote: “Though many applied, we understand the Antisemitism Commission did not accept members from all political leanings – the center or left – of the Jewish community. They too have a story to be told…No community is a monolith and oversimplifying the Jewish community into one political party (only Republicans or Democrats) is inaccurate.” I am also a member of the Jewish community and I ask that you vote “NO” on this unconstitutional bill.
Talking Points House Bill XX (Prohibitions on -BDS) History of BDS: 1. Surveys have shown a majority of American Jews view a positive relationship with Israel to be an important part of their religious, cultural or social identities. BDS seeks to separate Jews from their religious, cultural, and social identities while couched in the language of human rights and social justice. 2. According to the ADL, “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is an international campaign aimed at delegitimizing and pressuring Israel, through the diplomatic, financial, professional, academic and cultural isolation of Israel, Israeli individuals, Israeli institutions, and, increasingly, Jews who support Israel’s right to exist. In practice, the global BDS movement doesn’t seek to create a Palestinian state but rather aims to dismantle the Jewish state and end the right to Jewish national self-determination on any portion of this contested land. BDS is one tactic in the long history of campaigns and efforts to delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.” 3. Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement, has said the following: a. “Ultimately, BDS aims to turn Israel into a pariah.” b. “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine... [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” 5 . Israeli Jews are “colonial settlers... I make a distinction between self-determination for Jewish settlers in Palestine, which I categorically oppose... Colonizers are not entitled to self-determination.” 6d. “If the occupation ends, would that end your call for BDS? No, it wouldn’t.” 74. The BDS movement is run by individuals that deny the right of Israel to exist and the right of Jews to live there. The movement has received funding from individuals who also fund terrorist organizations like Hamas.8 5. While Virginia passed a non-binding anti-BDS resolution in March 2016, it has not passed a statutory anti-BDS law that prevents businesses contracting with public bodies from boycotting Israel as other states have. 6. To date, over 30 states have adopted laws or policies that ban boycotts against Israel related to companies that contract with states, including Tennessee, South Carolina, Illinois, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, and New York. 7. The legislation is based on a recommendation from the Virginia Commission to Combat Antisemitism. 8 Jonathan Schanzer, “Israel Imperiled: Threat to the Jewish State,” testimony at a joint hearing before the House Foreign
My name is Katherine Akbar, and I am with the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights. I am also a member of the Virginia business owners community, and I urge you to defeat this punitive bill. Members of the Virginia House should be in the business of supporting local businesses, not mandating their business practices as they relate to doing business with a foreign country. I choose not to do business with apartheid states, including Israel, because human rights are even more important to me than money. I have lived under the brutal Israeli occupation, and my ex-husband was imprisoned and tortured by the Israeli government for his nonviolent political activities. Even if you hold a different opinion, I hope you recognize the First Amendment right to free speech and the right of businesspeople to freely choose any business practices that do not discriminate against any protected class. Foreign countries do not fit this definition and are not your constituency.
I am writing in support of HB1898 to prohibit boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel. Israel is the key ally of the United States in the Middle East and should be supported, not undermined or delegitimized. BDS is the tool of those who would deny the right to a Jewish state of any size. It is a tactic and policy that is not in the interests of Virginians of Americans and it is discriminatory under the IHRA definition of anti-semitism.
As a Palestinian American who has lived in the state of Virginia for well over 15 years and who saw my mother and uncles suffer deeply for their losses of property, peace of mind and safety when they became refugees in 1948, I urge you to vote no to this bill. You would criminalize a citizen who has already struggled as a single mother, as a n immigrant, as a Muslim during islamophobic times, for the very priviledge to spend her money as she sees fit and more importantly not to contribute to the traumatic consequences of apartheid policies to her family. Do not criminalize me for standing up for justice for my family.
Dear Members of General Laws - Subcommittee #4, I am writing to ask you to vote NO on HB 1898 “Virginia Public Procurement Act; public institutions of higher education; prohibition on boycotting Israel; civil penalty.” HB 1898 would be bad for business, bad for civil rights, and bad for human rights. HB 1898 would amend the Virginia Public Procurement Act to prohibit public bodies from contracting or subcontracting with businesses that “engage in a boycott of Israel, its instrumentalities, or any of its territories.” As such, this bill clearly aims to restrict our Constitutional right to free speech, including the right to criticize any government, foreign or domestic. According to the ACLU Virginia, “Government contract restrictions cannot be based on the desire to punish First Amendment activities that aim to influence public opinion on our nation’s policies. Accordingly, federal courts have repeatedly found that bills targeted at restricting boycotts of Israel—bills identical in substance [to HB 1898]—violate the Constitution.” Freedom of speech is vital right for a functioning democracy. As George Washington stated in his address to the Officers of the Army, on Saturday, March 15, 1783: if "freedom of speech may be taken away, [then] dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter." Boycotts are an American tradition--from the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery Bus Boycott - and are a widely acclaimed form of nonviolent protest traditionally employed by those whose voices have been ignored. The boycott of Israel should not be an exception to our nation’s documented history of participating in similar actions for human rights and social justice. I kindly ask that you vote NO on HB 1898 to affirm that all Virginians and businesses have the right to free speech, including the right to participate in boycotts to support human rights and social justice! Sincerely, Paul Noursi Vienna, VA
HB1911 - Conflict of Interests Act, State and Local Government; certain gifts prohibited, foreign countries.
HB1913 - Virginia Public Procurement Act; prohibited contracts, agency-branded marketing materials.
HB1953 - Virginia Freedom of Information Act; closed meeting exemption, home instruction of children.
HB1957 - Virginia Public Procurement Act; construction management and design-build contracting.
Dear General Laws Subcommittee #4 members- on behalf of the City of Falls Church Council, I submit the following comments to OPPOSE HB1957 as currently proposed. The City is committed to and in full support of the VPPA benefits for transparent and open competitive procurement but it also must be balanced with the benefit to the taxpayers funding for cost-effective and risk- mitigation projects. Specific successful City examples are noted below. Design Build and Construction Management at Risk are very valuable contracting instruments for a locality’s construction-procurement toolbox. Current law allows for their use for projects over $26 million and for complex projects below that amount. We strongly request that these thresholds are left as currently specified or that local governments be exempted. The decision of which construction method provides the best project outcome and benefit should be based on the individual project per the locality. If this legislation is not amended, as suggested above, then we recommend that it be referred to the Procurement Study Group for full balanced analysis of the issues, to prevent unintended negative consequences to taxpayers of the Commonwealth and/or achieve a middle ground alternative (i.e. time limit of 10-years then contract award is rebid). The City has recently used the construction management At Risk (CM) contract for two projects, the City Hall and Public Library Renovation and Expansion. Both were complex and under $15M so within existing financial thresholds. Also, as a small locality we have qualified construction project management staff but also limited quantity of staff. So, CM has proven to be a time efficient method to have an upfront competitive process for a consolidated construction management contract, inclusive of all subs, while also be cost effective for the citizens to maximize the scope affordability. We have also used design-build projects in the past. Since time is money, we believe these two construction procurement tools benefit both the private and public stakeholders and no state code change is warranted. If we can be of further assistance and/or clarify any of these comments please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your service to the Commonwealth. Cindy Cindy L. Mester, ICMA-CM Deputy City Manager Pension Plan Administrator/ Risk Manager 300 Park Avenue, Suite 203E Falls Church, VA 22046 phone: 703-248-5042 (TTY 711) cell: 571-641-5586 fax: 703-248-5146 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The City of Roanoke is opposed the HB 1957 as it limits our ability to make the decision as to which construction method is best suited to an individual project.
Please OPPOSE!! The City of Portsmouth strongly opposes this bill. Based on past experience, it would have minimal impact on the City with respect to the design-build process and therefore, the construction services aspect in general. However, if this applies to all construction services, even those not associated with design-build projects, it would present a problem. Those services are typically provided by our on-call annual services consultants who have previously been procured through using an RFQ to perform a number of A/E services to include construction services as spelled out in the RFQ.”
HB2113 - Procurement policies; various Authorities to adopt.
HB2122 - Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council; training for members of school boards.
HB2223 - Conflict of Interests Act, State/Local Government; statement of economic interests, etc.
HB2242 - Elections administration; requests made pursuant to Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
VOTE NO ON HB2242 Governor Youngkin has made transparency of information an important objective for his administration. Virginia has a common-sense Freedom of Information law that is one of the pillars supporting transparency and accountability in government agencies at the state, city and county levels. HB2242 will blacken Virginia’s hard-earned reputation for transparency. DAMAGES PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN ELECTIONS: HB2242 drastically reduces transparency and accountability for information about elections, banning access by the media, citizens, and all voters, at the very time that public confidence in elections is just starting to be restored by the Youngkin administration. BANS VOTERS’ INFORMATION RIGHTS FOR 1/3 to 1/2 OF THE YEAR: HB2242 forces Virginia electoral boards and registrars to ban and suppress citizens’ rights to public election information for over a third of the year (over four months), and in some cases over half of the year (over 6 months). BANS INFORMATION ABOUT ALL TYPES OF ELECTIONS: HB2242 bans information about primaries, general elections and special elections. HERE ARE THE BANNING PERIODS IN 2023: In 2023, HB2242 would ban citizens’ rights to public election information for over four months - from 5/06/2023 through 7/7/2023, and from 9/22/2023 through 11/24/2023. If a locality holds a special election, the media and citizens’ rights to public information are suppressed even more, for a total of three elections or 186 days out of 365 total days - over 50% of the year. NO TRANSPARENCY AND NO THOUGHT TO CONSEQUENCES FOR ELECTION OFFICES: Because the FOIA law requires a response within 12 working days (that includes the 7-day extension), election office staff will THEN have to respond to all the accumulated FOIA requests within less than three weeks - for all the requests - after each banning and suppression period. HB2242 will make Virginia one of the least transparent states in the U.S. for media, citizens and especially voters seeking information about elections. VOTE NO ON HB2242
Please vote NO on HB 2242. This bill does everything to thwart and undermine the purpose of FOIA, which is to TIMELY provide election information to the public. Not only does this bill identify many black out dates which are during the election season, it precludes the public from receiving important election information until AFTER certification of an election. In other words, under this bill, by the time a requestor would finally receive the information it would be too late to have any effect or change the course of any past election. Any issue with a current election would be kept under wraps until after certification. The bill would also NOT decrease FOIA burdens on the registrars or electoral boards. The FOIA requests would simply pile up, and registrars would have to respond to many more requests in a narrow timeframe. If the GA wants to reduce FOIA requests, rather than tampering with the existing and fair FOIA law, it might help to require registrars to make more of their election information public and transparent, such as posting daily updates for things such as how many drop box ballots there were per precinct, etc on their websites.
Our elections need more transparency, not less. Elections offices can do easy things to provide information to the public on their websites, and probably many FOIA requests fall into categories that are predictable. Election offices can just do a one time upload to their site for the public to find. There is nothing to hide. The people have a Constitutional rights against maladministration as in Article I. Bill of Rights Section 3. Government instituted for common benefit. HB2242 needs a NO vote.
HB2281 - Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council; powers and duties, complaints, penalties.
My name is Karen Greenaway. I am a retired federal law enforcement officer, a small business owner, and a rural Virginian and I support this bill. The current enforcement mechanism for accountability for violations of existing conflict of interests laws are inadequate. The existing system does not provide Virginia residents with the ability to raise legitimate concerns when they believe these laws have been violated. In addition, allegations that a legislature violated conflict of interest or financial disclosure laws and rules must be tried in the court of public opinion, rather than independently investigated and transparently resolved. Virginia is one of only a handful of states whose existing conflict of interest and financial disclosure system have a no functional mechanism to investigate and hold accountable legislators for violating these laws and rules. This bill would change that. A number of the bills on the agenda today seek to expand the scope of conflict of interest, public procurement, and acceptance of gift laws. Without a mechanism to investigate violations of these laws, there is not accountability for violators. I strongly urge you to change that by voting for Del, Shin's bill. Thank you.
In a 2021 survey, 88 percent of Virginians, irrespective of party, indicated that they support enhanced public disclosure and accountability for legislators' use of campaign funds and lobbyist influence through campaign donations. Most other states like Connecticut, Washington State, and New York have robust independent ethics enforcement mechanisms that have led to increased transparency and accountability in state government. The bill requires the Council to create a searchable electronic database for the filing of all forms, and to make the database available online to the public.
My name is Bill Millhouser, I am from Fairfax County. I am a member of the campaign finance reform group BigMoneyOutVA. I support HB 2281 because Virginia needs a strong ethics watchdog. Virginia currently lacks a functioning, effective process to investigate potential conflicts of interest or ethics violations by members of the legislature, lobbyists, or state and local officials. HB 2281 remedies this problem by providing the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council (the Council) with authority to investigate potential violations. The bill: Consolidates the Council’s existing responsibilities to review disclosures filed by lobbyists and state government officers with new responsibility to review legislators’ financial and gift disclosures, eliminates the Senate and House Ethics Advisory Panels, which are no longer necessary, and requires the Council to review disclosures for accuracy, timeliness, and completeness. The bill guards against abuse of the ethics process in three important ways: It limits complaints to those based upon first-hand knowledge; It prohibits investigations within 60 days of an election or nominating event; and it requires the Council to conduct a confidential preliminary inquiry of a complaint submitted by Virginia resident to determine whether it’s frivolous before opening an investigation. Most other states like Connecticut, Washington State, and New York have robust independent ethics enforcement mechanisms that have led to increased transparency and accountability in state government. I urge you to vote in favor of this much needed legislation.
I support this bill because it addresses a serious gap in oversight in our ethics oversight and enforcement systems. In 2015 the VCIEAD (Advisory Council) was established and unlike the majority of state ethics agencies, it doesn' have the power to sanction violations of ethics rules. It can't ever investigate complaints. This poor ethics regime is reflected in Virginia's poor showing in two recent reports by the national good governance organization, the Coaltion for Integrity. We scored in the bottom ten of the the S.W.A.M.P. Index, in particularly, Virgina fared poorly due to it's lack of transparency and accountability of ethics regulations. In a 2021 survey, 88 percent of Virginians, irrespective of party, indicated that they support enhanced public discloure and accountability by legislators. Most other states have robust independent ethics enforcement mechanisms that builds confidence among voters in their governing institutions. In Virginia, good governance ethics mechanisms have been recommended since the 1990s. It is time to establish some type of structure that actually allows some type of oversight over potential entanglements between legislators' personal/professional interests and the government interests they oversea. This would be of benefit to both legislators and citizens, a win-win situation.
My name is Jessica Mott, from Arlington VA. I am a member of the executive committee of the grassroots group We of Action (WofA). I support HD2281, which will expand the authority of the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council to investigate ethics complaints of Virginia residents about violations of ethics laws for state and local government and the General Assembly. According to the bill, the Council will have increased responsibility to review the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of legislator’s and staff disclosure reports, and to investigate anomalies. It increases penalties of knowing violations and includes measures to curtail frivolous complaints. It also creates a searchable public online electronic database. Passage of this bill will help to address Virginia’s low ranking in the Coalition for Integrity’s swamp index. It will also respond to the 2021 Public Opinion poll finding that 88% of Virginians support enhanced public disclosure and accountability of campaign finance and lobbyist influence. I want to have a state legislature that I trust, whose members are not unduly subject to conflicts of interest. That way I can have greater confidence that they will be representing the interests of all citizens rather than focused on special interests. It is high time that Virginia strengthens its accountability for ethical compliance. I urge that you all support this bill.
HB1878 - FOIA; exclusions to application of chapter, local administrative investigations, disclosure.
Comment in opposition to HB1878 'Retaliation' (as Mr. Freed notes in his comments) is a two-way street. While we would like to believe this bill protects citizens -- it is drafted to do quite the opposite and harms residents specifically in Virginia Beach. Currently, complaints within the City of Virginia Beach are overwhelmingly filed by developers (frivolously) who wish to acquire the property. Limiting this information allows these parties to continue to harass property owners without recourse, and encourages builders to continue this unethical conduct to ensure fees and expenses burden lower-income residents. They then acquire the property preferentially (i.e. no other bids or competition, completely off the book and no public record) at a discount rate (the City is known to waive all fees assessed in closing). This bill allows developers to continue to perpetuate a fraud on residents with the assistance of the local governing body wherein it deliberately hides potentially illegal (certainly unethical) and conspiratorial conduct between private parties and government actors. I encourage a redrafting in order to protect the rights of residents in both the protection of their information (if they are, in fact, the complainant) and in public disclosure of private individuals/organizations who use the complaint process to advance a business venture which deprives residents of their rights under the guise and assistance of local (and now state) government.
Please excuse my previous comment. It was not meant for 1878 but 2242.
Every government action must be as transparent as possible and any desire by a public official to make it harder for the public to gain information about what they or the government are doing in the name of the people, should not be supported. Want to avoid additional FOIAs being submitted,? An easy solution for all - put everything possible on line and also available at an office where the people can access things when they have questions. This would mean that only the most sensitive information would be subject to FOIA, cutting down on the workload, the cost and time of the person that submits the FOIA, and making all stakeholders feel that they are being respected and fully informed. Please vote this bill down.
The attached is information in support of HB1878 - Williams Graves on behalf of the City of Virginia Beach. The City of Virginia Beach fully supports this bill and we ask that you vote FOR this bill because it expands the FOIA exclusion to allow withholding complainant’s email addresses; and more importantly, it closes a loophole in the exclusion that creates a safety risk for our citizens. We have encountered situations where the release of a complainant’s personal information resulted in retaliation against the complainant. Thankfully, no one was harmed during these confrontations; however, in a world that continues to become less safe, we fear that releasing a complainant’s personal contact information could result in someone being harmed or even worse. Releasing complainant’s personal information serves no purpose other than to promote feuds between neighbors. Therefore, we ask that the subcommittee vote in support of this bill.
The attached is information in support of the Freedom of Information Act amendments in HB1878 - Williams Graves on behalf of the City of Virginia Beach.