The 2004 legislature’s bitter struggle over its own Freedom
of Information regulations ended amicably -- with all sides agreeing
knotty in-session issues sometimes are best left on a back burner.
The fight largely got resolved in the ’04 session when Sen.
Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, and House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith,
R-Salem, struck a compromise that kept legislative sessions under
FOIA, yet exempted legislative caucuses even when they deal with public
Left unaddressed, however, was what to do about legislators’ hallway
huddles, office get-togethers and social occasions where the talk
is not just about hurricanes, the ACC or the stock market.
An interim subcommittee of the Joint Rules Committee chaired by Griffith
had been asked to recommend non-FOIA rules to deal with those grey-area
Originally, Griffith wanted Joint Rules to write explicit rules to
close the informal, unannounced meetings. But after three hours of
informal discussion with media and open-government representatives
at a meeting in June, Griffith said word-smithing by Joint Rules might
cause "more problems than it solves." (The legislature’s
numerous single-issue and special-interest "caucuses" proved
to be particularly irksome for would-be rules-writers.)
Unable to reach agreement the subcommittee decided, as one member
put it, to "let a sleeping dog lie." Weeks later, it was
reported that members of Joint Rules had agreed with the subcommittee.
Other subcommittee members included Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia
Beach, and Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Chesapeake. In the ’04 session,
Wardrup had been one of the most outspoken foes of keeping the General
Assembly’s meetings under FOIA; seeing the Houck compromise,
however, he was one of the first Rules Subcommittee members to urge
an end to the fight.
Legislators and open-government supporters agreed that the current
FOIA law relating to requirements for closed and open legislative
meetings was preferable to allowing Joint Rules to write new secrecy
rules every session.
The FOI statute already includes language permitting legislators
to waive requirements for public-meeting notice when meeting informally;
thus, all that’s unaddressed is whether an informal, unannounced
meeting can be closed if a non-legislator tries to crash it.