RICHMOND, VA—When it comes to risk of corruption, Virginia ranks as one of the nation's worst states. The problem is largely due to a lack of public access to government information.
Now, a state lawmaker is pushing to make one of Virginia's most important agencies Follow Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws—it's the same agency 8News has continued to investigate for waste and violations of state law.
Virginia's State Corporation Commission (SCC) is exempt from state sunshine laws—laws that watch-dog journalists and concerned members of the public use to gain access to information that reveals how state leaders are doing business.
In Virginia, state leaders pride themselves on a strong reputation of being open for business. But, the Old Dominion's reputation for open government is nothing to brag about!
When it comes to risk of corruption, Virginia got an F. In fact, Virginia ranks 47th out of 50 states, according to the State Integrity Investigation. The investigation cites one of the big factors behind that score as the lack of public access to information.
One of the main examples listed is Virginia's State Corporation Commission, which is exempt from Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.
“Given how important this agency is, it really aught to be subject to our sunshine law,” said Del. Scott Surovell (D-44th)
The SCC regulates banks and insurance companies, businesses, railroads and utilities. It sets the rates you pay on the electricity running into your home, and has a say in how much phone companies charge you.
“They regulate all these kinds of companies to make sure they're not gouging consumers,' said Del. Scott Surovell (D-44th).
But an 8News Investigation found, because of the SCC's status as an independent state agency, no one is really watching the corporation to ensure they're not gouging taxpayers.
State Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44th) is now trying to get a bill passed in the general assembly requiring the SCC to follow FOIA laws governing other state agencies.
“I strongly believe the more sunshine we can place on matters involving our government, the better decisions end up getting reached the more accountability we have the bettor our government actors behave,” said Del. Surovell.
Del. Surovell cites the 8News investigation into violations of state procurement laws and guidelines by the SCC, and the apparent lack of oversight the agency operates under, as just another reason his proposed bill needs to be passed.
“The documents you've uncovered raise some pretty important questions and demonstrates why the state Freedom of Information Acts aught to apply to the state Corporation Commission,” said Del. Surovell.
On Monday, the General Assembly's FOIA subcommittee will meet to discuss the proposed law that would require the SCC to follow Virginia's Freedom of Information Act.
Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond