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Commonwealth's Counties

Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council recommends legislative draft bills for 2022 session

On November 10 the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council (FOIA Council) held its last meeting of 2021 and voted to recommend three legislative drafts.

A revised version of HB 2000 (Roem), which was introduced in the 2021 legislative session, was endorsed by the FOIA Council. This bill would allow every citizen of the Commonwealth,  and representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting 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. The draft bill also requires public bodies to post on their website a written policy (i) explaining how the public body assesses charges for accessing or searching for requested records and (ii) noting the current fee charged, if any, by the public body for accessing and searching for the requested records.

This bill, which gives 8 free hours of FOIA requests per person, per month  (or 96 free hours per person per year), would overwhelm even the best staffed localities as the FOIA officers would still have to respond to all requests within the 5-workday deadline. Currently FOIA allows public bodies to charge actual costs incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. VACo opposes this bill which presents an enormous policy change and a large fiscal and administrative burden for all public bodies.

The FOIA council also endorsed HB 2196 (Mullin), which allows for the release of law enforcement disciplinary records upon completion of disciplinary investigations. The bill in its current form provides a definition of “law-enforcement disciplinary records” and does allow for the redaction of some personal contact information.

The council also considered and endorsed a draft bill dealing with the concept of electronic meetings outside of a state of emergency.  The proposal includes the option for a public body to add to their electronic meeting policy the ability for the public body to meet remotely under certain circumstances. VACo supports this draft and worked on it with a group of stakeholders including VML, the Coalition for Open Government and the Press Association.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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