Preparing for Freedom of Information Act changes on July 1

June 2, 2016

FOIA

Starting July 1, HB 818 (LeMunyon) requires local public bodies with a population greater than 250 to post a FOIA rights and responsibilities document on their public government website. The bill also requires all local public bodies that are subject to FOIA to designate and publicly identify contact information for at least one FOIA officer. This officer’s responsibility is to serve as a point of contact for members of the public in requesting public records and to coordinate the public body’s compliance with the provisions of FOIA. The FOIA officer must possess specific knowledge of the provisions of FOIA and be trained at least annually by legal counsel for the public body or by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

The Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council staff has developed a model template that can be used, with some modification, by any locality in developing and posting this rights and responsibilities statement. Model Rights & Responsibilities Template

The changes and additions that will need to be made by each locality include:

• Making the document specific to the locality. The template refers generically to “the Department.” A specific locality name should be inserted in its place.

• The new law requires that all public bodies subject to FOIA provide the name and contact information of a FOIA officer, or officers, designated to assist requesters, and to whom FOIA requests can be sent. The template provides space for this information.

• A locality may also wish to amend any other provisions of the template to more accurately reflect its practices concerning FOIA requests. For example, a locality may have an existing practice to only charge a requester for records if the cost of the request exceeds a certain amount of money. In that case, the locality would amend the section of the template addressing costs to explain this specific practice.

In order to facilitate the required training, the FOIA Council plans to host free FOIA training webinars in June, July and August, and then once per year thereafter. These webinars will focus on making and responding to requests for public records, and are expected to last 1-1.5 hours. These webinars have not yet been scheduled, but specific times and dates will be publicized once they are set. Additionally, please note that the required annual FOIA training may also be provided by your local government attorney.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE

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