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Commonwealth's Counties

VACo opposes bill that allows 8 free hours of FOIA request search and access of records per person for each 31 consecutive day period

SB 324 (Roem) prohibits a public body from charging a requester for any costs incurred during the first two hours spent accessing or searching for requested records when the requester has made four or fewer individual record requests to such public body within 31 consecutive days. This bill would allow every person, and every representative of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and media in or into the Commonwealth to make four two-hour FOIA requests per 31 consecutive days free of any access or search fees, and then after 31 days allows them to start the process all over again.

Contact your Legislators to oppose SB 324.

KEY POINTS

  • After the free hours, the highest rate that a locality could charge is $33/hour unless they successfully petition the court for a higher fee upon showing by a preponderance of the evidence that there is no qualified individual capable of fulfilling the request for $33 per hour or less.
  • Any such petition shall be heard within seven days of the date when the same is made, provided that the public body has sent, and the requester has received a copy of the petition at least three working days prior to filing.
  • This bill – which gives 96 free hours per person, per public body, per year – would overwhelm even the best staffed localities.
  • The FOIA officers would continue to have to respond to all requests within the 5-day deadline, and in addition, would have to create and monitor a new record keeping process for counting requests and time.
  • Currently FOIA allows public bodies to charge actual costs incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records.

VACo opposes this bill because it presents an enormous policy change and fiscal and administrative burden for all public bodies.

SB 324 is on the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee’s docket for January 17, 2024, 30 minutes after the adjournment of the Senate. Please contact your legislator today and urge them to oppose this burdensome bill.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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