Freedom of Information Advisory Council
The Freedom of Information
Advisory Council began its meeting with a legislative update recapping
the FOIA and related access bills passed during the 2003 Session. Nineteen
bills amended FOIA, including the creation of eight new meetings and records
exemptions and the expansion of eight existing meetings and records exemptions.
Several other bills did not amend FOIA directly, but addressed access-related
Both bills recommended
by the FOIA Council were passed. Senate Bill 737 was the result of the
subcommittee studying FOIA and the Virginia Public Procurement Act, and
SB 738 was a recommendation of the subcommittee studying HB 900 (2002).
A complete listing and description of FOIA and other related access bills
considered by the 2003 Session of the General Assembly is available on
the councils website.
to the Council
The 2003 General
Assembly referred five bills to the FOIA Council for study:
1. House Bill 1649,
relating to charges for FOIA requests.
2. House Bill 1797, relating to disclosure of closed meeting discussions.
3. House Bill 2626, relating to FOIA requests by inmates.
4. House Bill 2664, relating to notice provisions for closed meeting procedures.
5. House Bill 2665, relating to closed meetings to discuss threats to
The council discussed
the development of a study plan for the bills referred to the council
for study. Staff presented three study plan options: the council could
utilize informal workgroups, as it has done in the past; form subcommittees,
an approach that would be slightly more formal than the workgroup approach;
or allow the full council to consider the bills at bill-specific meetings.
The council decided to invite the patrons of the bills to present them
and any relevant background at the next meeting, and then subcommittees
could be appointed to conduct the studies and report back to the full
Review of Legislative
The council discussed
what its role should be in receiving other legislative proposals, aside
from those referred to it by the General Assembly. The council deliberated
on whether it should provide a forum for people to present proposals or
whether it should be more actively involved in deciding whether a proposal
furthers an appropriate public policy or needs further study. The question
was also raised as to whether the council should identify global
access issues for discussion. After lengthy discussion and public comment,
the council decided to approach legislation and global access issues on
a case-by-case basis. The council will advertise itself as a forum for
presenting legislative proposals as a sort of legislative preview. The
council may then decide on a case-by-case basis which, if any, of those
proposals it wishes to discuss further, or whether there are any general
areas of interest that it wishes to study.
It was suggested
that the council set an example by creating a publicly accessible repository
for all council business conducted by e-mail. Members expressed concern
that before starting such a project, the relationship between FOIA and
e-mail should be examined and noted that the classification of e-mails
is often a very confusing area of the law. The council adopted this as
a global access issue for further discussion. The Secretary of Technology
will be invited to the next meeting to discuss the capabilities of technology
for state agencies and to address other relevant technology issues.
Staff advised the
council that law-enforcement agencies should be commended for making FOIA
training a priority. In connection with the Virginia FBI National Academy,
nearly 200 law-enforcement officials from 60 agencies have received FOIA
training and copies of the Law Enforcement Guide to FOIA.
Staff presented the
latest statistics of the services rendered by the council. Since its meeting
in November through April 4, 2003, the council has answered 377 inquiries,
including 15 written opinions. Six written opinions were provided to government,
three to citizens, and three to media, and 145 informal responses (via
phone or e-mail) were provided to government, 140 to citizens, and 77
A citizen expressed
concern over VIPNets contract with the Department of Game and Inland
Fisheries that allows VIP-Net to sell information about people who have
fishing and hunting licenses. Another citizen suggested that FOIA be clarified
to ensure that informal telephonic assemblages are covered by the open
meeting provisions and that the new procurement exemption be narrowed.
Finally, comment was heard from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government
relating to recent policy statements by its board of directors relating
to FOIA issues.
The Hon. R. Edward
Maria J.K. Everett
| Legislative Services | General