Troublesome FOIA bill amended in subcommittee

February 14, 2019

SB 1554 (Surovell) was heard in a House General Laws subcommittee this week and was substantially amended for the better. This bill as introduced provides that 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 altered or destroyed the requested public records with the intent to avoid the provisions of this chapter, the court may impose a civil penalty of up to $100 per record altered or destroyed.

A second provision of the bill as introduced provides that if a court finds that a member of a public body voted to certify a closed meeting and at the time of such certification 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, a civil penalty of $500.

The subcommittee striped out the second provision, which could penalize individuals for unintentional and inadvertent discussions about things such as a person’s health as violations of the closed meeting provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. SB 1554, which is much less objectionable with the amendments, will be heard by the House General Laws Committee on February 14.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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