Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 22nd, the FOIA Council holds its first meeting of the year (in House Room D of the General Assembly Building, 201 N 9th St, Richmond).
The main item on the agenda is the beginning of the much touted study of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, as required by 2014 House Joint resolution 96:
That the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council be directed to study all exemptions contained in FOIA to determine the continued applicability or appropriateness of such exemptions and whether the Virginia Freedom of Information Act should be amended to eliminate any exemption from FOIA that the FOIA Council determines is no longer applicable or appropriate. In conducting its study, the FOIA Council shall also examine the organizational structure of FOIA and make recommendations to improve the readability and clarity of FOIA. The FOIA Council shall consider comment from citizens of the Commonwealth; representatives of state and local governmental entities; broadcast, print, and electronic media sources; open government organizations; and other interested parties. [emphases added]
The study is to take 2 years, with meetings completed by November 30, 2016, and a report to be submitted by the first day of the 2017 legislative session.
The study is a huge task. The press thus far has usually cited a figure of 172 exemptions. That figure apparently is the sum of the 127 exemptions to FOIA’s open records provisions in Va. Code §§ 2.2-3705.1 – 2.2-3705.8 and the 45 purposes for which Va. Code § 2.2-3711 allows closed meetings.
UPDATE: UVA won.
A FOIA case is pending before the Supreme Court of Virginia. Given the Court’s recent history (for example, on cameras in the courtroom and FOIA and the SCC), that alone is cause for concern. This post discusses the case, what’s at issue, and how it matters for open government in Virginia.
Later this week, probably on Thursday, April 17th, the Supreme Court of Virginia will release its next batch of opinions. The Court hears cases in sessions, which happen about every 6-8 weeks. By tradition, the Court releases all published opinions in cases argued at the previous session on the last day of the next session. The Court isn’t required to follow that schedule; it can take as long as it wants. But month in and month out, the Court follows its traditional schedule in all manner of cases, complicated and simple, controversial and not.
It is cause for raised eyebrows therefore that the Court missed its usual timeframe on one case (record no. 130934) argued in January: the entity formerly known as the American Tradition Institute (ATI) and Virginia Delegate (and Congressional candidate) Bob Marshall v. the University of Virginia and former UVA professor Michael Mann. This is pure speculation, but there may be multiple opinions or close questions where the Court wanted to write carefully. For our purposes, the key points are that a FOIA case has reached Virginia’s top court, with significant implications for all Virginia citizens.