HJR 501

Joint Subcommittee to Study the Virginia Freedom of Information Act

September 10, 1999, Richmond

For its fourth meeting of the interim, the joint subcommittee conducted a work session to attempt to finalize the sunshine office draft. Amendments prepared by staff (available on the joint subcommittee's website) included the requirement that the sunshine office provide training to public officials, citizens and the media concerning the requirements of FOIA.

A representative of the Governor's office stated that the idea of a sunshine office is acceptable to the administration, especially the training and education aspect. The administration would like to see the addition of representatives of executive branch employees, appointed by the Governor, to serve on the Virginia Commission for Open Government (the proposed name for the sunshine office).

The issue of the admissibility of advisory opinions issued by such a commission was also discussed. There was consensus that with the creation of a commission, the goal would be to attempt to provide a process to resolve disputes without litigation and to provide a guide for future activity. There was also consensus that if there is pending litigation, the commission should not render an opinion. Discussion on this and other issues raised at the third meeting continued; however, the joint subcommittee made no final decisions.

The joint subcommittee also began discussion of the inclusion of foundations that support public institutions of higher education and other public-private partnerships as "public bodies" under FOIA. Should they be open to the same degree as other public bodies? The Virginia Press Association noted that private foundations are encroaching in the realm of the operation of public universities. Foundations exist solely to support universities and are under strict control of the boards of visitors. Are they agencies of the Commonwealth? Where is the line to be drawn?

The next meeting of the joint subcommittee has been scheduled tentatively for the second week in November in Richmond. The subject of the meeting will be further discussion of a sunshine office in Virginia. 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