Freedom of Information Act

Unprecedented Action: McAuliffe Rejects Day Of Prayer Permit In Capitol Square

For as far back as anyone can remember, well over a decade at least, many of us who work in downtown Richmond have taken part in the National Day of Prayer service on the grounds of the Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. It is always held at noon, as are the overwhelming majority of services nationwide, so that office workers can participate during the lunch hour. That was the case anyway, until this year. We've just learned that for the first time ever, a governor's administration has declined Day of Prayer organizers the noon hour for the service, saying that it is a time when people eat their lunch on capitol grounds.

No, really, that's what they said. Not only is that a remarkable statement in and of itself, but the part of Capitol Square used for the service — the Bell Tower — is not in the area brown baggers use for lunch as the park benches are on the main walk way through the middle of the square.

A photo earlier today shows that, despite the pleasant weather, lunch eaters in Capitol Square aren't all that numerous.

While the administration has been nice enough to offer the grounds for a service at 1:00, the decision sends the clear message that religious Virginians are going to continue to be treated as second class citizens by this administration. This should come as no surprise in the aftermath of Governor McAuliffe's vetoes of two common sense bills concerning religious liberty passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. Surely, in only four short months, no governor in Virginia history has displayed such disdain for religious expression.

As for the administration's concern for people who eat their lunch at noon on the capitol's grounds, they certainly can do so while a relatively small group of folks gather for a Day of Prayer service. The grounds are, after all, not very small. There's not been a problem in the past, so why the sudden change? Day of Prayer organizers were told that the policy regarding the noon hour has been in place for some time but that they had been "grandfathered in" in recent years, but not anymore. We are sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of General Services to find out just when this policy was put in effect, by whom, and why.

Regardless of this administration's hostility toward faith, we will continue to fight for our religious liberty. It is foolish if it believes its childish antics are going to stop prayer.

Watch What The Media Doesn't Want You To See . . .

Yesterday was the midpoint of the 2013 General Assembly session, and a lot has happened so far this year. Some of it you may have read about in the newspaper or seen on the news, but a lot you have not. For several years, in an effort to bring you the most comprehensive information about what happens at the General Assembly, we have videotaped key debates in both sub- and full committee meetings (see our YouTube channel). At a meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee earlier in session, at least one capitol reporter seemed a bit put off by our efforts. As one of our staff members set up our camera in the committee room, in the same place we've set it up for several years, one senior reporter asked her for whom she worked. Upon hearing that she was with The Family Foundation, he chastised her saying, "You can’t do that here. You aren't credentialed press." A quick conversation with a Capitol Police officer made it clear to the reporter that committee hearings are public meetings and we can videotape them if we want.

So, it would appear that either the reporter had forgotten that our government's actions are open to the public or, perhaps, he's a bit intimidated by the fact that the media narrative is going to be challenged by the video showing exactly what happened, not how he and his colleagues describe it in in their "stories" and "articles." Of course, maybe he just didn't want his view blocked (though our camera was right next to a large post so we wouldn't block anyone's view).

Perhaps some of the issue is that our video exposes their media myths. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about the Ed and Health meeting — and specifically the debate over abortion center health and safety standards — one reporter wrote:

Both sides in the abortion debate packed the hearing room with advocates of the same arguments they've used to battle each other for the past two years.

Except, that's not at all accurate. As you will see watching the video, we used material from Department of Health inspection reports that show wide spread health and safety violations at Virginia's abortion centers — something the Times-Dispatch simply refuses to cover — material that was available just this past summer. It is new evidence we obtained from the department this past summer and last month via Freedom of Information Act requests and proves why we needed the health and safety standards. It is evidence we didn't have prior to the regulations, so we couldn't have used it "to battle each other for the past two years."

Even if we obstructed some reporters' views, we didn't affect their hearing, yet the media reported we offered no new information on the abortion center safety standards debate. It is clear we had new evidence of numerous violations not previously available to the public. (The new evidence is presented at about 5:50 into the video.)

We've said for the past year that there are some capitol reporters who have exchanged reporting for opining and, in particular, have driven some of the hysteria surrounding pro-life legislation. They've ignored or dismissed the facts about what's happening in Virginia's abortion centers, and they have little interest in balance.

Many journalists in Richmond still do great work and are fair, balanced and hard workers, while several clearly have allowed their bias to affect their work. All the more reason for our being here — years ago we accounted for the reasons the changing media landscape demanded we be here — and for you to watch the video and to share it with others.

EXCLUSIVE: More Evidence Of Disturbing Health And Safety Violations At Abortion Centers

The Family Foundation of Virginia issued the following news release earlier today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 13, 2012

More Evidence of Health and Safety Violations at Abortion Centers — Roanoke Center has blood covered bed; Manassas has 17 pages of deficiencies —

RICHMOND—The Family Foundation of Virginia today released more information and documents obtained from the Virginia Department of Health through the Freedom of Information Act that shows widespread health and safety violations at Virginia’s abortion centers. (See yesterday's exclusive documentation of 80 health violations at nine Virginia abortion centers. The violations cited below and yesterday cover only the nine of the 20 abortion centers in Virginia. We are waiting for information on the inspections of the other 20.)

Perhaps the most shocking information is from the inspection report of the Roanoke Planned Parenthood Health Systems center, where

An observation was conducted on July 20, 2012 on 10:20 a.m. with Staff #10, Staff #11 and Staff #12 within Procedure room (D).  The observations revealed a brownish red splatter approximately one inch diameter between the procedure table's main cushion and the end of the table support cushion.  Staff #10 initially identified the substance, but was unable to maneuver the brush between the two cushions.  Staff #10, Staff #11, and Staff #12 determined the end of the table support cushion was attached to a metal track and was removable.  Staff #10 removed the support cushion the edge of the cushion closest to the main body of the table had multiple areas of dried blood.  The undercarriage of the support cushion had multiple areas w[h]ere blood had dripped and ran down the under carriage.  The accumulation of dried blood varied in coloration and thickness.  Staff #10 acknowledged the substance was dried blood and not betadine.  Staff #10 and Staff #12 acknowledged with the accumulation of dried blood the procedure table had not been disinfected between patients.

“Eighty violations in just nine centers, including untrained staff, unsanitary conditions, improperly labeled and stored drugs, and blood on equipment are not minor to women in Virginia and indicate a complete disregard for the health and safety of the patients going to these centers,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation.  “The more we learn the more women in Virginia should be outraged at what the abortion industry considers safe and healthy.  The women of Virginia will not dismiss these reports as easily as the abortion industry has chosen to do.  The abortion industry clearly has no interest in the health and dignity of women or they wouldn’t consider a patient bed that’s covered with blood safe and healthy.”

At the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Inc. clinic in Falls Church

Employee #6 stated, "I mix the medications, applies (sic) a label and takes the vials to the procedure room for the physician to draw up and inject into the patient prior to the procedure.  They are used for numbing the cervix."  Employee #6 was asked who verified the medications she was mixing and she stated, "No one."  While observing the medications being mixed Employee #6 was observed cleaning the tops of the vials prior to the first puncture of each vial.  She did not clean the tops prior to the second puncture of the vials.  Employee #6 stated, "The current research says it doesn't make any difference.  You could lick the tops of the vials and the infection rate would be the same."

A June 1, 2012 inspection of the Amethyst Health Center for Women in Manassas found 17 pages of deficiencies including infection prevention citations, storage and dispensing of drugs citations, quality assurance citations, maintenance citations, and local and state code standards citations.  Incredibly, this came just two months after a March 27, 2012 meeting of the abortion center’s “Quality Assurance Committee” including “Administrator/Owner, Medical Director/Physician, Counselor, LPN, CNA, and a consultant” concluded, “The staff was polled regarding any concerns about patient care and nothing was identified. ... No concerns have been identified and no measures need to be implemented at this time by the Quality Assurance Committee.”

Cobb stated, “It is abundantly clear that the abortion industry has an entirely different definition of patient care, health and safety than any reasonable Virginian.  Seventeen pages of citations and the clinic staff thinks everything is just fine; a clinic worker who is completely dismissive of basic sanitary procedures when administering drugs.  This is why the industry should be completely ignored when it comes to determining what regulations it should follow.  It’s simply appalling.”

In response to the industry claims that its facilities have been licensed despite these findings, Cobb said, “That statement is simply deceptive.  The abortion centers that have had these violations of safety standards have to submit a plan to correct all of their deficiencies and the Department of Health must approve those plans before the facilities can be licensed.  To indicate that the Department simply gave its stamp of approval despite the horrendous conditions they found is simply not accurate and is yet another indication that the abortion industry in Virginia is simply incapable of telling the truth.”

BREAKING NEWS: Fetal Remains, Blood Found In Virginia Abortion Center

The Family Foundation of Virginia issued the following news release earlier today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 12, 2012

Fetal Remains, Blood Found in Virginia Abortion Center — Department of Health Inspections Find 80 Violations in Nine Centers —

RICHMOND — Documents obtained by The Family Foundation of Virginia from the Virginia Department of Health through the Freedom of Information Act show widespread health and safety violations at Virginia’s abortion centers, the pro-family group announced today, including the discovery of improperly stored fetal remains and blood at one facility.

“Some of this is just horrific.  Now we know why the abortion industry fought so vehemently over the years against even simple legislation that required only inspections, licensing and emergency equipment in their centers,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation.  “They were hiding for a reason.  Even with time to prepare for announced inspections these centers were found to be what I think most reasonable Virginians would deem unsafe in many cases and utterly disgusting in others.  Now, the same industry claims it should be trusted on the construction standards as well, but these inspection reports show that the industry simply cannot be trusted on anything.

“Perhaps the most frightening aspect of these reports isn’t the blatant disregard for basic health standards, but the fact that even with notice of inspection the operators of these facilities thought they were safe for women.  Apparently, if the abortion centers just scrub off the blood they can keep on operating.”

An inspection of the Tidewater Women’s Health Clinic in Norfolk found:

The freezer which is used to store the collected conception material, had blood and un-bagged conception material frozen to the inner bottom surface.  An observation was conducted of the freezer kept in the clean utility room.  Staff #3 reported after inspection of the conception material, it was poured into plastic storage bags and the bags are stored in the freezer until the next weekly medical waste pick up.  The observation revealed that some of the plastic bags were open and had spilled their contents onto the bottom of the freezer.  Approximately three-fourths of the freezer’s bottom and shelf was covered with frozen blood and conception material.

An inspection of the A Capital Women’s Clinic in Richmond found  that the staff doesn’t change the MetriWash solution in the sink every time dirty instruments are brought in (instructions for MetriWash say to change the solution every time) and that a sponge used to clean instruments is only changed once per week.

At Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia’s clinic in Virginia Beach, the inspector’s report states, “Employee #4 was asked how she could tell which of the containers (used to transport/clean instruments) were dirty or clean.  Employee #4 stated, ‘I can’t.  I guess we need to have a different color to put the instruments in once they are clean.’”

According to Commissioner Karen Remley’s report to the Board of Health at the June 2012 meeting, nine of 20 abortion centers applying for licensing had been inspected by the Department of Health.  According to the Commissioner of Health, none had been “deficiency free.”

Some key findings:

  • The nine centers inspected had received 80 citations
  • 18 citations for personnel issues, including no background checks, no ongoing plans for staff training, no maintenance of personnel files, no policy requiring staff to be CPR trained, no policies setting experience and training required to practice
  • 13 citations for infections prevention issues, including seven clinics with no clear division between clean and dirty utility areas, four centers where personnel weren’t using personal protective equipment and a host of record keeping issues
  • 10 citations regarding the administration, storage and dispensing of drugs including four with expired drugs in stock, and others with improper labeling of drugs, no medication dispensing policy
  • 10 maintenance of equipment citations including equipment not in good repair, no preventative maintenance plan
  • Six citations for local and state building code violations

“The same abortion industry representatives who claim that their centers are safe and healthy want the Board of Health to weaken the safety standards that were recommended by the Department of Health,” added Cobb. “The conditions found in these reports existed as the very representatives of the industry that own and operate abortion centers were testifying to the Board that their facilities are safe.  With such disregard for the truth, for the well-being of women, how can its claims of safety be trusted?  No longer can the abortion industry claim that it puts women’s health ahead of its profits.”

HHS Attempted To Coverup Its Own Research: Abstinence Education Works

The reaction to Tuesday's announcement that Governor Bob McDonnell has applied for federal funds for abstinence-centered education has been intense (see Washinton Post Virginia Politics Blog). As you would suspect, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia have opened rhetorical fire on the governor, as have several leftist blogs and commentators. If you read the comments at the end of newspaper articles (and unless you have a thick skin I wouldn't) you would think the decision to help our teenagers delay sexual activity until marriage is a conspiracy to bring back chastity belts. You may be running into some of the same misinformed rhetoric in your circles, much of it based on false claims or outright deception. Of course, those who profit from risky sexual behavior, Virginia's abortion industry, are viscerally opposed to the idea that teenagers can control themselves. One legislator who works closely with Planned Parenthood and NARAL carried this message (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot):

The reality is with teenagers their hormones come into play, and abstinence-only doesn't always work.

Then again, if they can be taught effective ways of postponing sexual activity it cuts into the abortion industry's profits.

But the primary argument has been that "abstinence education doesn’t work," "parents don't support abstinence education," or "it’s naive to think that teenagers can be abstinent." None of those arguments, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are correct. In fact, this year a study paid for by HHS, and its own recent survey, found that abstinence education is highly effective and widely supported by parents and teenagers (Washington Post).

The HHS survey released late last month (see here) found that 70 percent of parents agreed that it is "against [their] values for [their] adolescents to have sexual intercourse before marriage" and that "having sexual intercourse is something only married people should do." Adolescent beliefs, according to the survey, were similar.

More interestingly, HHS buried the survey results and was forced to release it to the public only after a deluge of Freedom of Information Act requests (as reported by Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential). Why, one must ask, would HHS not want people to know the results of taxpayer funded research — results that show Americans want and support abstinence before marriage?

Let’s face it, the battle over sex education is indeed a battle of worldviews and a battle for the hearts, minds, and bodies of our children. The fact is that abstinence centered programs do work and they are making a difference — science is showing that. It’s up to us to get the word out.

We hope that if you haven't already, that you please thank Governor McDonnell for taking this strong stand on abstinence education funding by clicking here to e-mail his office. Abstinence opponents are well-funded and are on the attack. We have to show the governor that the families of Virginia appreciate his action. Please contact him today.

Wear Or Where?

On May 16, we were one of the first blogs to pick up on something Governor Tim Kaine told fellow members of the Democrat National Committee, as reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

I am trying to juggle two pretty challenging jobs. It's not an easy time to be a governor.

This, after assuring the public in January he could easily do both jobs. But his current humility and sought-for compassion appear in contrast to the fun he's having at someone else's expense (we don't know how much tax money is involved because he won't respond to Freedom of Information Act requests), travelling to several of the nation's hot spots — although not all of his trips are known since he hasn't disclosed his DNC itinerary, either.

Here's what he told the Florida Democrat Committee in Miami on May 30 (see video here):

We did have a good time today being here. We actually got two hours here at the pool. I mean, this (the hotel) is a nice place! I was walking out there with no shirt on and shades.

So, Governor Kaine has gone from doing his patriotic duty, to being worn down by the challenge, to having a blast pool side in Miami and other fun places, all within a few weeks. But, to be honest, he doesn't look any worse for the wear. Or should that be, "where"?

Budget Transparency Bill May Come Up Soon!

The General Assembly is barely under way, yet already there is urgency in the air. Most people think this session will be dominated by the budget and the revenue surplus that has been squandered, putting our state finances in a deficit. Complementing the budget debate is a very important issue and one of our very top priorities this session: Budget Transparency and Accountability, which entails putting the state budget online in an easy-to-search format.

How can we control spending when no one knows how much is spent, where it is spent and on what it is spent? Lawmakers from both chambers readily admit that unless they are on the powerful money committees, they don't know where our money goes because after it is appropriated, it gets funneled around and through departments and agencies in forms of grants and contracts that make it virtually impossible to track. In fact, lawmakers themselves have to file several Freedom of Information Act requests just to discover the purpose of one  check.

Without an accountable, easy-to-use online tool, how can anyone track the many thousands of tax dollars the commonwealth doles out to nefarious organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, under cryptic "education" grants? How to uncover the millions of wasted tax-dollars on earmarks and political paybacks for non-essential services to special interest groups or district-friendly pork barrel projects?

Not only will an online budget — easily searchable in a Google-like format — help legislators make informed decisions on how to budget billions of your hard-earned tax dollars, it will allow hundreds of thousands of citizen watchdogs to point out the waste in government spending. In short, this is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended.

We were informed early this week that the Senate bill creating online budget accountability, SB 936, might come up as early as Wednesday, January 21, in the Senate General Laws Committee. The patrons are Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax), but despite this same bipartisan support last year, the committee defeated it with bipartisan votes. Lawmakers of both parties, and their bureaucrat allies, who are more interested in the accumulation of power via the purse and the secrecy of the budget's intricacies, are determined again this year to arrogantly deny the families and people of Virginia their rights to know what their government does with their hard-earned tax money.

However, this year, with an overspent government desperately trying to "find money to cut" and with the twin backdrops of an election year and federal bailouts to banks and businesses that have refused to account for what they've done with our tax money, the time is ripe for accountability in the commonwealth's finances.

The "Google Government" bill, SB 936, may come before the Senate General Laws Committee as soon as this Wednesday, January 21. Don't let opponents of open government kill this bill quietly, early, when few are paying attention.

It is urgent for you to write members of the Senate General Laws Committee (click here) and to find others to do so as well — all the better if one is your senator — and let them know you want the ability that the citizens of several states already have, to conveniently research how and where your money is spent. Amazingly, President-elect Barack Obama's one major accomplishment in the U.S. Senate, was to partner with Oklahoma's conservative Republican Tom Coburn, to put all federal contracts online.  

If the behemoth that is the federal budget can be put online, so, too, can Virginia's.

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Budget Transparency

Yesterday, we posted information about our efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion in Virginia, through grants it receives through the state budget. One of the challenges we face is actually finding the expenditures. You see, there isn't a line item in the budget that says "Planned Parenthood." The money is distributed by local health clinics from money appropriated to the Department of Health. At least the money we know about. An example of the difficulty in finding the truth came just last year when we sent Freedom of Information Act letters to every school board in Virginia concerning contracts with Planned Parenthood. The City of Richmond schools responded that they had no contract with Planned Parenthood but, just days later, we learned from Planned Parenthood that they were holding workshops in Richmond City Schools. Who is paying for this has yet to be determined, but we're working on it.

Several years ago The Family Foundation introduced legislation that was an attempt at making state budget expenditures more available to citizens. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), resulted in Commonwealth Datapoint (click here), a Web site where one can look through every check written by the state.

But plan on spending a lot of time, because while everything is there, it is about as user-friendly as Windows Vista. 

Last year, Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Centerville) and Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) introduced legislation that would make the budget Web site more user-friendly, including a Google-like search engine. That legislation was killed in committe in both the House and Senate. Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania), a member of the Finance Committee, was particularly offended by the idea that taxpayers should have the right to hold him accountable for budget decisions. Similar legislation will be introduced again this year by those same legislators.

As the Commonwealth now deals with a spending surplus of at least $4 billion, finding where we can save money is extraordinarily important.  Most legislators will tell you that there isn't much waste in state government or any more "trimming of the edges" that can be done. While it would be great to take their word for it, the fact that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood gives us doubt.

The way to righting this large ship of state begins here: It cannot be done without knowing exactly where and how government spends our hard-earned money; it cannot be done if we continue to sit in darkness while extreme organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, are provided with taxpayer bailouts.

In short, online budget transparency is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended. This year's legislative battle will be one of the bureaucrats and politicians who put power (via the purse) over the people's right to know.

Who will win? Rather, who has the will to win?

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Funding Abortion, Planned Parenthood

In the past three budget years, you have sent nearly $200,000 to the nation's largest private abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, which, by the way, makes millions of dollars nationally. Between 2006 and 2007 you paid for more than 300 elective abortions (not involving rape or incest).

Federal law requires Virginia pay for low-income abortions in cases of rape and incest. The Commonwealth, however, has decided to go beyond the requirement and fund "elective" abortions as well — hundreds of them. This taxpayer support of elective abortion is unnecessary and must end.

Likely, those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The Commonwealth of Virginia hasn't exactly been forthcoming with information regarding how much taxpayer money is going to Planned Parenthood and to fund abortions, requiring multiple Freedom of Information Act requests from The Family Foundation and legislators. The real numbers are yet to be determined.

But whatever the case, taxpayer funding of these entities must stop!

For several years, The Family Foundation and our many pro-family partners, have worked to put an end to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood in Virginia. In 2008, we came ever so close and, for the first time, had budget language pass both the House and Senate that would have done just that, only to see the language left out of the final budget. We will work once again in 2009 to eliminate this funding.

Planned Parenthood, a national political behemoth, had an income in its last fiscal year of more than $1 billion. Incredibly, nearly one-third of that income comes from you, the American taxpayer. In its last annual report Planned Parenthood reported more than $330 million in government — i.e., taxpayer — grants.

What is this money used for?

Planned Parenthood is the largest private provider of abortion in the United States, performing more than one quarter of all abortions, or nearly 300,000 in 2006. As the national abortion rate has gradually declined in recent years, Planned Parenthood's abortion number continues to increase by double digits.

It is an organization that works everyday to end abstinence education in our schools and to replace it with their own agenda, a so-called comprehensive sex education program that results in more kids engaging in risky behaviors, more sexually transmitted diseases among our teenagers, more teenage pregnancy and, yes, more abortions — from which it profits.

It is an organization that supports the barbarity of partial birth abortion. It is an organization that fears beyond imagination the thought that a woman contemplating an abortion might have the opportunity to view an ultrasound of her unborn child.

It is an organization that does not need a "bailout" from the taxpayers (which is what we've provided it all these years).

As lawmakers face a $4 billion spending surplus and complain about not being able to balance the budget, they can start with the unnecessary taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and elective abortions. The Family Foundation will support budget amendments this year that do just that.