Freedom of Information Act Bills in large numbers

January 19, 2016

In the third and final year of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) study in which each meeting and record exemption is being examined and discussed, it is surprising to note a very large number of introduced bills.

Many of these bills will add further responsibilities for local governments. Of particular concern are HB 61 (Morris) that provides in addition to the civil enforcement provisions of FOIA, any officer, employee or member of a public body who, without legal excuse or justification, deliberately, willfully and knowingly violates certain FOIA provisions is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

HB 308 (Morris) requires that public officials, appointees and employees shall use only official government-provided email accounts to conduct public business.

HB 800 (Morris) provides that a public body shall make an audio recording of the entirety of every closed meeting and to preserve the recording for a period of no less than two years.

Other bills of interest include HB 818 (LeMunyon), which local public bodies to post a FOIA rights and responsibilities document on its website and to designate and publicly identify one or more FOIA officers whose responsibility is to serve as a point of contact for members of the public in requesting public records and to oversee the public body’s compliance with the provisions of FOIA. It also requires that any such FOIA officer shall possess specific knowledge of the provisions of this chapter and be trained at least annually by legal counsel for the public body or the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

HB 334 (Pogge) provides that in an enforcement action, if the court finds the public body violated certain meeting notice requirements, the court may invalidate any action of the public body taken at such meeting.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE

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