Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2004 

Freedom of Information Advisory Council

June 9, 2004

Electronic Meeting Requirements

The Subcommittee on Electronic Meetings reminded the council that at the last full council meeting, representatives from the Clerks’ Offices of the Senate and the House raised several issues concerning electronic meeting requirements and requirements for notice of the meetings. The subcommittee reported that its meeting was well attended by representatives of the press, public, and state and local government.

The subcommittee discussed several issues relating to the electronic meeting provisions found at § 2.2-3708 of the Code of Virginia and was considering the following areas where change may be warranted.

  • Requiring 30 days notice for an electronic meeting is onerous. Often meetings are not planned 30 days in advance. Also, various situations may arise closer to the meeting day, such as personal emergencies or other circumstances that prevent members of a public body from being physically present at a meeting.
  • Another issue is the limitation of allowing only 25 percent of meetings annually to be conducted electronically. For example, if a public body only meets three or four times a year, such as a General Assembly study, it may be difficult or impossible to hold even one electronic meeting.
  • An emergency provision would allow a member of a public body to participate electronically at the last minute due to a personal emergency without triggering the requirements of an electronic meeting (i.e., no heightened notice, etc.).
  • The law currently requires that an electronic meeting be suspended at all locations if there is an audio or visual malfunction—even though a quorum must be at one location. The purpose behind this provision is to guarantee public participation at all locations, since all meeting locations must be open to the public. However, it might be difficult for one site to realize that another site has lost the audio or the audio/visual feed. Finally, it was noted that while electronic meetings are beneficial to the members of a public body, they can also be used as a means to increase public participation in meetings.

The subcommittee also discussed the notice requirements for all meetings and not just electronic meetings. Currently, posting is required in two physical locations, and posting electronically is “encouraged.” It was noted that the Internet is now a place where interested persons look for notice of a meeting. Additionally, because the law already requires state public bodies to place their meeting minutes on the Internet, it makes sense to use the Internet to also post notice.

The subcommittee plans to meet again in July (tentatively July 7). Staff will prepare draft legislation that will:

  • Shorten the notice requirement for electronic meetings from 30 days to 7 days and remove the 25 percent limitation on the number of electronic meetings. This will be used as a springboard for further discussion. It was decided to not include an “emergency” provision for personal emergencies of members at this time, but it may be discussed further at the next meeting.
  • Address the malfunction of the audio or audio/visual feed issue. It was suggested that notice of electronic meetings include a phone number of a person to contact during the meeting to notify others that a site has lost audio or audio/video feed.
  • Include a requirement that state executive public bodies post notice of all meetings on the Internet, in addition to at the two physical locations. These public bodies must already post minutes, and as of July 1, post FOIA rights and responsibilities information on their websites. Local governing bodies will be encouraged to post notice on the Internet, as there is no current requirement that local governing bodies have websites.

Representatives from the clerks’ offices will examine the possibility of establishing numbers that members of the public could use to call into to monitor and listen to meetings (any meeting, not just an electronic meeting) as a means of increasing public participation through technology.

GIS Subcommittee

The Geographic Information System (GIS) Subcommittee reported that its initial meeting was well attended by representatives of the media, the public, and state and local government officials, including many with GIS responsibilities. The subcommittee advised that it had reviewed the provisions of SB 182 that was referred to the council for further examination. Senate Bill 182 would have excluded from the mandatory disclosure requirements of FOIA maps contained in a geographic information system that are developed from a combination of high resolution technologies, including digital orthophotography, digital terrain models or related ancillary proprietary data produced by any local governing body or by the Virginia Geographic Information Network (VGIN) division of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

The subcommittee agreed that SB 182 as drafted should not be recommended. However, the subcommittee felt that the issues raised by the bill were worthy of further discussion and that, relying on the specific GIS knowledge of the interested parties, perhaps a resolution of the issues relating to the accessibility of GIS records could be achieved. The issues identified included (i) whether portions of GIS records are adequately exempted under A57 of Sec. 2.2-3705; (ii) what additional exemption language may be needed to enable state and local public bodies to receive the data necessary for the preparation of GIS maps from utilities and other third parties; and (iii) whether GIS records can/should be copyrighted and the extent that copyrighting protects against further commercial use of GIS data obtained from public bodies.

At the next meeting of the GIS Subcommittee, to be held on July 13, 2004, at 11 a.m., staff will be providing some additional information concerning other states’ approaches on this issue and the impact of copyright law on the accessibility of public records.

HB 358

Staff informed the council about the model rights and responsibilities document it had prepared in response to HB 358 (see above). Staff stated that all cabinet secretaries had been sent a letter in May informing them of the model rights and responsibilities document prepared by staff, along with an offer of further assistance made to any agency in the respective secretariats to help in tailoring the model document to the requirements of the specific agencies. After sufficient time for review and comment by the council, the model rights and responsibilities document will be posted on the council’s website. It was suggested that the model rights and responsibilities document also be made available to local public bodies even though the provisions of HB 358 apply only to state public bodies.

Of Note

Staff advised that the planning of the annual statewide FOIA workshops is underway. The workshops are tentatively scheduled for October in five locations, including Wytheville, Harrisonburg, Fairfax, Richmond, and Tidewater. Staff also advised the council that for the period March 29 through June 8, 2004, staff has responded to 243 e-mail and telephone requests for assistance and has written seven advisory opinions.

The discussion of the council then turned to the issue of allowable charges made under FOIA, noting that such charges are often a contentious issue between a requester and a public body. Concern was raised that the only available remedy for disputes over charges was to the courts. It was noted that such disputes should come first to the council for resolution as an inexpensive, common-sense alternative to lawsuits. Staff advised that it frequently facilitates resolution of charge disputes.

Future Meetings

The next meetings of the council have been set for September 16, 2004, and December 2, 2004, each at 2:00 p.m. in Richmond.

The Hon. R. Edward Houck

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


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2004 

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