Freedom of Information Advisory Council

April 8, 2003

2003 Legislative Update

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 issues.

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 council’s website.

Bills Referred 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 public safety.

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 council.

Review of Legislative Proposals

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.

Other Business

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.

Of Note

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 to media.

Public Comment

A citizen expressed concern over VIPNet’s 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 Houck

For information, contact:
Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director




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