Problematic Freedom of Information Act bills gone for the session

February 18, 2016

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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 was surprising to note a very large number of introduced bills. Because of VACo’s opposition and your contacts with legislators the most troublesome bills failed to advance.

HB 61 (Morris) provided for criminal penalties for FOIA violations. The patron amended his bill in committee to provide that violation of FOIA could result in the immediate dismissal of a public employee. The bill 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. This bill was laid on the table by the House General Laws Committee and will not be heard again this session.

HB 308 (Morris) requires that public officials, appointees and employees shall use only official government-provided email accounts to conduct public business. This bill did not advance from the Committee on general laws.

HB 818 (LeMunyon) requires 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 the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. This bill passed handily and will likely pass through the senate without problem. This will create some new administrative responsibilities for localities.

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. This is problematic as there are no limits as to the time period or scope of the act which can be invalidated. This bill was struck Thursday in the House General Laws Committee and will not come up again this session.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE

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