What a difference a year makes

What a difference a year makes.
 
Last year, a Senate subcommittee on FOIA advanced one bill after another that restricted the public’s access to government information. It recommended a bill to exempt police names, one to limit which state salaries could be released and in what format, and one that created a month-long procedural requirement where the government would ask private businesses if it was OK to release records.
 
This year?
 
The subcommittee had eight bills on the docket. One troublesome one involving fracking chemical trade secrets and one having to do with solar energy company trade secrets, were carried over (meaning the patrons are still working on them). One bill that VCOG had concerns about was amended to take out the problematic parts and recommended to advance. This was a bill from Sen. Hangar that has to do with personal contact information; the senator was gracious in listening to and responding to VCOG’s concerns.
 
At the same time, the subcommittee recommended three bills that seek to tighten up FOIA. One would eliminate college presidents from the list of people who can use the working papers exemption. Opponents of the bill said the exemption was needed because the presidents run complex, multibillion dollar organizations. The patron (Sen. Petersen) said that was exactly why accountability was needed.
 
Sen. Petersen presented another bill that had to do with including university foundations under the definition of “public body” in FOIA, but he agreed to come back next week after speaking with university representatives.
 
The subcommittee unanimously recommended a bill from Sen. Surovell to have police turn over records on unattended deaths (e.g., suicide, overdose) to immediate family members once an investigation has concluded.
 
The subcommittee split on its vote to recommend a bill from Sen. DeSteph that would create a rebuttable presumption that a failure to respond to a FOIA request was made knowingly and willfully.
 
The subcommittee declined to recommend another one from Surovell having to do with extra monetary penalties for individual board members who improperly certify that the closed meeting rules were followed.
 
Even though that bill did not receive the subcommittee’s endorsement, it and the other bills will still be heard by the full committee. Unlike the House, Senate subcommittees cannot defeat a bill in subcommittee.
 
The full committee meets Monday afternoon.

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