Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22, 2014: Virginia Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council Met and Discussed HJ96 the Two and a Half Year Study on Current Exemptions Allowed for FOIA Requests

2014’s HJR96 directs the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Council to study the 100-170 current exemptions in Virginia Code over the next 2.5 years (completed by December 2016) to determine if some of the exemptions should  be eliminated or revised. 

Today (April 22, 2014) the VA FOIA Council held its first meeting of 2014 where they discussed the planned process and outline for HJR96 for 2014, 2015 and 2016. 

I attended today’s meeting my first ever. I learned a few points today that I did not know about when it comes to FOIA requests in VA and I also learned that most citizens expect the FOIA Council to assist them when they are having issues getting their requested information from the county, city or state departments like being the “FOIA Police”. That is NOT their role at all as I found out 2 years ago when I reached out to them with the denials I was receiving from the Virginia State Police. In the end it’s up to the citizens of Virginia to file and fund a court challenge in instances of FOIA denials, refusals or excessive fees. Most citizens do not have the knowledge, the time or the resources to force implementation of the FOIA laws but yet that is our current system and it doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime in the future. 

Finally I addressed the Council during the public comment portion of today’s meeting. 

Here is my statement: 

Council Members, 

I’m excited that HJ96 allows an opportunity for the Virginia FOIA Council to look into more than 100 exemptions and I would like to bring one of those exemptions to your attention today…….as it is NOT being applied consistently. 

Statute 2.2-3706(H) that was re-codified in July 2013 and it is now found at 2.2-3706(A)(2)(k) 

k. Records of the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry maintained by the Department of State Police pursuant to Chapter 9 (§ 9.1-900 et seq.) of Title 9.1, including information obtained from state, local, and regional officials, except to the extent that information is required to be posted on the Internet pursuant to § 9.1-913; and 

The statute states that the release of certain records can be categorized into three actions
1.       must be released
2.       may be released
3.       can not be released
……….leaving complete discretion in the hands of the Virginia State Police (VSP). 

Over the last 4 years I have made 4 separate FOIA requests for Registry data and except for my very first request, ALL have been denied. 

The most recent example I have to share with you is from October 2013… It was denied solely on the basis that the information may be disclosed by the custodian in his or her discretion.