Troublesome FOIA Bills Advance in the Senate

February 1, 2018

SB 630 (Surovell) provides that in addition to any penalties imposed under FOIA, if a court finds that any officer, employee, or member of a public body failed to provide public records to a requester in accordance with the provisions of FOIA because such officer, employee, or member of a public body intentionally altered or destroyed the requested public records prior to the expiration of the applicable record retention period set by the retention regulations promulgated pursuant to the Virginia Public Records Act, the court shall impose a civil penalty of up to $100 per record altered or destroyed.

In addition, the bill provides that if a court finds that a member of a public body voted to certify a closed meeting and at the time such certification was not in accordance with the requirements of FOIA, the court may impose on each such member voting to certify in his individual capacity, whether or not a writ of mandamus or injunctive relief is awarded, a civil penalty of $500. VACo opposed this bill which passed the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee, 11-0, with one helpful amendment that allows a judge discretion in imposing penalties in litigation under this section.

SB 336 (Peake) requires that every public body afford an opportunity for public comment during any open meeting. The bill requires that the notice given by a public body prior to a meeting include information as to the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received. The bill permits public bodies to choose the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received and permits public bodies to adopt reasonable rules governing the public comment portion of the meeting, including imposing reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner. VACo opposed this broad bill that applies to all public bodies, a term that encompasses hundreds of advisory and citizen committees. The bill passed through the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee with a 9-0 vote.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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