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Commonwealth's Counties

FOIA Bills Update

VACo opposed SB 324 (Roem), which is an unfunded mandate bill and would allow every citizen of the Commonwealth, and representative of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and media in or into the Commonwealth, to make four free two-hour FOIA requests per 31 consecutive days.  Then after the 8 free hours per person, per month, the highest rate that a locality could charge is $33/hour unless they successfully petition the court for a higher fee.

VACo opposed this bill in Senate General laws and Technology Committee and was told by the Chair of the Committee to engage in negotiations with the patron over the next week. A meeting was held with a number of stakeholders which included VACo, VML, the Attorney Generals’ office, the Sheriff’s Association, the Coalition for Open Government, and the Press Association.

After the meeting, the patron offered a substitute at the January 24 Senate Local Government Committee Meeting, which passed unanimously. The substitute included provisions for one free hour per calendar year for each person, a cap of $40 per hour and some language providing an exception for legal review by public bodies and requires the collection of data by public bodies for any request that takes over 30 minutes. In addition, the bill expires on July 1, 2025, and incorporates a provision for a study of FOIA fees to be completed by November 30, 2024. This bill is headed to the Senate Finance Committee next.

VACo supports SB 244 (McPike) and HB 816 (Cherry), which seek to validate otherwise lawful actions taken by a public body using electronic communication means occurring from March 20, 2020, until July 1, 2021, with respect to FOIA if the body provided public notice, public access, and public comment commensurate with the requirements of existing FOIA provisions regarding electronic and closed meetings.

VACo supports SB 36 (Locke) and HB 818 (Cherry), which amend the definition of “meeting” as it relates to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to clarify that a gathering of two or more members of a public body is not a meeting if there is no discussion or transaction of any public business as defined in the bill, by the members of the public body and that certain educational trainings are not meetings subject to FOIA. The bill is in response to the decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia in Gloss v. Wheeler (2023) and is a recommendation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

HB 671 (Frietas) adds to the definition of “public body” any organization, corporation, or agency that received more than 50 percent of its annual revenue, within any of the three preceding years, from public funds. VACo opposed this bill which was struck from the docket.

VACo supports HB 894 (Bennett-Parker) and SB 734 (Marsden), which provide that except for local governing bodies, local school boards, planning commissions, architectural review boards, zoning appeals boards, and boards with the authority to deny, revoke, or suspend a professional or occupational license, any public body may hold all-virtual public meetings 2 times per year or no more than 50% of the meeting  whichever is greater, provided that they have an electronic meeting policy in place.  Previously, the limit was 25%.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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