I wrote a column last week poking at the Virginia Press Association for raising issue over a bill that would impact the disclosure of low-level public employee salaries.
Turns out I may have missed a key point.
The bill, filed by State Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Fredericksburg, would exempt public employees who make less than $30,200 a year from having their names disclosed publicly.
Current state law exempts from public disclosure the salaries of public employees who make $10,000 a year or less.
The bigger issue with the bill: “The bill shields the salaries of only the lowest-paid employees, but it shields the names of all employees,” Craig Fifer, the president of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, wrote to me in an email.
“Surely the public has a legitimate interest in how much taxpayers spend on an agency or locality’s leadership and key managers, among others. The bill starts with the legitimate goal of catching up to inflation, but slips in a sweeping policy change with unfortunate consequences,” Fifer wrote.
And Fifer is 100 percent correct on this, as the bill is written.
From the bill: “The provisions of this subdivision, however, shall not require public access to records of the official salaries or rates of pay of public employees whose annual rate of pay is the annual equivalent of twice the federal minimum wage or less. Publicly available databases of public employees’ salaries shall not include the name of any public officer, appointee, or employee.”
I’m not sure that this isn’t just clumsiness on the part of Stuart, aiming to delineate that the names of those whose annual rate of pay is the annual equivalent of twice the federal minimum wage or less are those to be left out of the publicly available databases.
OK, I’d like to suspect that it is, not having anything from Stuart to the contrary on that point, but either way. If the bill was passed and signed into law as written, it could be interpreted the way Fifer has suggested, shielding all names, not just those that fall into the $30,200-a-year category.
I don’t imagine that you get Terry McAuliffe to sign off on the bill as written even if it does pass the House and Senate; nor do I imagine that it would pass as written with veto-proof majorities.
Clean that language up, and we can shift the discussion back to where it needs to be.
– Column by Chris Graham