Jan 30 subcommittee chart

Below is a chart of positions VCOG is taking on bills being heard by a FOIA-centric House subcommittee today, Jan. 30, 2018.



HB504, HB664, HB957, HB958, HB959

(These bills overlap and VCOG has different positions on the 3 topics they cover)

OPPOSE: 504, 664 and 957 seek to define the term “custodian” in FOIA. Though well-intentioned, we fear that defining the term potentially opens the door for confusion about custodianship that, in my fielding of hundreds of FOIA complaints each year, as well as the hundreds of government employees I have trained, I have rarely encountered.

NEUTRAL: 664 and 959 address the transfer of public records to a third party. VCOG finds the proposal it potentially helpful for requests for databases but also finds it essentially unnecessary.

SUPPORT: 664 and 958 involve the idea that one government entity can’t redact information on the ground that another entity has provided it. VCOG supports this proposal, since each government entity should respond to all of its FOIA requests without regard to how another entity may have responded in the past or may respond in the future.

HB1101, HB1247


(These bills both deal with public comment periods at public meetings)

SUPPORT: VCOG supports putting a right to some sort of public comment period in FOIA. Perhaps the most frequent question I receive from citizens about public meetings involves public comment period. Most people are surprised to learn that there is not some sort of guaranteed right to speak at a public meeting. VCOG fully recognizes that public bodies need to be run efficiently and so supports balancing the public’s right to comment with a public body’s right to impose time, place and manner restrictions on those comment periods.

Other states guarantee public comment periods in their state open meetings laws:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont.


VCOG prefers HB1247

HB1, HB147


(Both of these bills address access to student cell phone numbers.)



Access to student directory data has been allowed for literally decades. Local businesses, universities, advocacy groups and more have used it to offer students information on graduate programs, coupons for local businesses or apartment rentals and requests to join causes of interest. Access to personal cell phone numbers does seem “icky” (to quote Maria Everett) but discomfort does not equal a compelling interest to be protected by an exemption, especially when cell phone numbers are already widely used by marketers.

HB1 goes way beyond exempting cell phone numbers: It absolutely prohibits release; whereas FOIA exemptions are discretionary; and it creates an unworkable opt-in requirement that is the opposite of the usual access protocol of opt-out.


OPPOSE: Different member of the public will be at different meetings. All are entitled to be apprised of potential conflicts.




SUPPORT: The most common question and complaint VCOG receives about access to records involves the fees charged. Citizens are given bills without explanations for how the amount was arrived at or are charged at labor rates of higher paid managers and attorneys instead of lower level employees who are capable of filling the request. Government has the right under FOIA to recoup the actual cost, but high FOIA charges — especially for seemingly simple requests — have a deterrent effect on future citizen requests.


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