This week we talked with VPA’s head lobbyist, Aimee Perron Seibert, about what we can anticipate in the 2018 General Assembly session. Seibert talks about how she thinks this session will be different from past ones, the bills the VPA is keeping a close eye on and how having two former reporters in the House has the potential to change how much transparency issues are discussed in the General Assembly.
As head of VPA’s lobbying team, what are our main priorities for this session?
Our main priority remains government transparency, both in the form of ensuring public notices remain as available to the public as possible and in newspapers and working on improving our FOIA laws. We will also be working to ensure the First Amendment is protected.
What are some of the bills that have been introduced for the 2018 General Assembly session that we are watching?
The very first bill that was filed, HB1, is a bill that we are very interested in that deals with student directory data and it’s availability to the public. As written, we have a lot of concerns. There is also a bill that proposes a fix for making the State Supreme Court’s case management system more accessible to the public.
If there is one, what is our top bill this session?
Our top bill is the bill that calirfies the definition of “newspaper of record.” This bill will be carried by Delegate Chris Head and is the result of the work we did with local government representatives and legislators in the Public Notice Workgroup.
*see below for further explanation of the Newspaper of Record legislation
Do you think having two former reporters elected into the House (Danica Roem and Chris Hurst) will change the amount of attention that transparency issues receive in the General Assembly?
Yes, we hope this will have a very positive impact on the issue of transparency, especially among the new delegates that have been elected and we look forward to working with both delegates on issues we all care about!
Are you anticipating this session to be any different from previous years? If so, why?
Yes, this will be a very different session for many different reasons. Not only will we be located in an entirely new building, but we will have a new gubernatorial administration starting on Jan. 13, which means many new faces in the executive branch.
Also, the dramatic results of the 2017 House of Delegates elections will make everything different in that body. Right now, the balance of power between the Republicans and Democrats rests with two contested House seats. One ended in a tie; the other has some electoral discrepancies that has landed it in federal court. We will be looking at either a 51-49 Republican majority, a 50-50 split or even a 51-49 Democratic majority. Until those two seats are decided, a Speaker of the House cannot be chosen nor can committee chairs be appointed or committees be constituted. So it will be a very different session than we’ve seen since a similar situation in the 1998 session.
For a complete list of bills that deal exclusively with transparency, FOIA and other open-government related issues check out the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s Bill Tracker.
* More on the Newspaper of Record bill:
“The newspapers of record legislation clarifies language regarding what qualifies as a newspaper of record, sets some minimum standards for newspapers of record, helps localities that have lost local newspapers, and requires all newspapers of record to post legal notices to the VPA’s statewide website. Most importantly, by addressing issues that local governments have identified, we hope it will end the annual battle to remove legal notices entirely from newspapers,”
Bruce Potter, head of the VPA Public Notice Committee.