HJR 501

Joint Subcommittee to Study the Virginia Freedom of Information Act

July 8, 1999, Richmond

During its second meeting of the 1999 interim, the joint subcommittee heard from the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government concerning the operation of his office. The director explained that very few states have similar offices and indicated that his office is responsible for New York's privacy and open government laws and provides oral and written legal advice in the form of advisory opinions. When asked about the existence of a conflict between opinions issued by his office and those of the New York Attorney General, he responded that there is no forum-shopping in New York--the Attorney General sends all requests for opinions on its open government laws to him, as do other New York state agencies which issue opinions. This arrangement is the result of an understanding among the several agencies and not a statutory mandate.

The committee is comprised of 11 members: four ex-officio heads of state agencies; one elected local government official appointed by the Governor; four members of the public, two of whom must be or have been representatives of the news media, appointed by the Governor; and two additional members of the public, one each appointed by the leaders of each chamber of the legislature. The office receives approximately 8,000 calls per year, 2,000 of which are from the media and about one-third of which come from local government officials. The annual cost for the operation of his office is $165,000 to $170,000.

The executive director opined that the success of any "sunshine office" depended on three factors: stong leadership, especially in the beginning; a commitment to the role of educator; and a reputation for impartiality.

To assist the joint subcommittee in its deliberations, staff identified issues to be considered in developing a "sunshine office" in Virginia, including determining the powers and duties of any such office and the organization structure and setting. This presentation is available on the joint subcommittee's website.

The next meeting of the joint subcommittee, scheduled for Monday, August 16, 1999, in Richmond, will be devoted to further discussion of the appropriateness of a sunshine office in Virginia and a review of sunshine office models offered by interested parties. The joint subcommittee will also receive public comment on these issues. For access to documents and other information related to this study, contact the joint subcommittee's website at http://dls.state.va.us/hjr501.htm.

The Honorable Clifton A. Woodrum, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Maria J. K. Everett