Troublesome FOIA bill reintroduced

January 15, 2019

VACo opposes SB 1554 (Surovell), which is the reboot of last year’s SB 630 (Surovell). This bill provides civil penalties against public officials in their individual capacity in addition to any penalties currently imposed under the Freedom of Information Act. Specifically the bill 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 the public official intentionally altered or destroyed the requested public records prior to the expiration of the record retention period set by the Virginia Public Records Act court shall impose upon such official in his individual capacity, 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 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.

In summary, this bill would mandate a court to hold that every deletion of a text, email, social media post or other form of message which meets the definition of public record subject to a separate penalty of $100 and penalize individuals for unintentional and inadvertent discussions about things such as a person’s health, as violations of the closed meeting provisions of FOIA. VACo opposes these provisions as the act already has adequate remedies for violations and these additional individual civil penalties are unnecessary and extreme.

Please contact members of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee to oppose SB 1554.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, Esq., CAE

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