Crossover at the 2010 General Assembly

At Crossover:

Despite the huge number of access-related bills that were on the table as the 2010 General Assembly session started, through consolidation, referrals to study commissions and, of course, the axe, that number has been cut nearly in half.

First, there are the bills that were "passed by indefinitely," "tabled," or "continued until 2011." Those phrases sound much more polite than "killed," "died," or "failed." The net result on these bills, however, is that they did not make it to the other chamber for consideration, and for all intents and purposes, will no longer be discussed this session.

The bill that gave us the most heart-burn, the "harassment-by-FOIA" bill, will be referred to the FOI Advisory Council for further study this summer. This bill would have allowed government to sue citizens for an order preventing them from "harassing" the government by filing too many FOIA requests.

There are undoubtedly individuals out there that use FOIA in this way, but the bill was worded so vaguely and broadly that it would have chilled all future FOIA requesters and would have led to abuse by government employees. In the Advisory Council, interested stakeholders can talk about their differences in a relaxed setting and try to come up with compromise language that everyone can live with.

Another bill that will be studied by the Advisory Council is one that seeks to clarify that the records of closed criminal investigation records should be released after any potential harm from their release has passed. This is a big change in policy that VCOG largely supports, so, again, it will be beneficial to have more time to study the issue.

The Senate has recommended sending to the council a bill clarifying what type of advance notice the defendant in a FOIA case (i.e., the government) is entitled to. A similar bill in the House was passed unanimously, but chances are the same Senate subcommittee that recommended further study will make a similar recommendation on the House bill.

Still at issue is whether the House bill on Threat Assessment Team records will be amended to eliminate the FOIA exemption for the team's recommendations and action plans, as the identical Senate bill has been. If the FOIA exemption is eliminated by both bills, the issue will be studied by the Advisory Council.

One bill that didn't make it out of committee would have exempted names and other personal information of people who visited Prince William public schools. The school district has sought an exemption since it first raised the issue to the FOI Advisory Council in 2008. VCOG opposed the measure in part because some of the information collected by the district's visitor information system was already exempt. VCOG also opposed the measure because of the value of knowing who visits the schools (vendors, recruiters, family or friends visiting without a parent's permission). The FOIA Council, and VCOG, earlier recommended that Prince William work with its software vendor to adapt the system so that truly sensitive information was not collected in the first place.

Two bills to allow localities to advertise public notices in locations other than newspapers (or in newspapers and some other alternative) were defeated in a subcommittee. The bill's patron, who brought a similar measure last year, has vowed to carry another version of the bill next year, too.

VCOG was also pleased that a bill introduced on the House floor in early February was ultimately refused by the House. The bill would have eliminated the requirement that the full-text of constitutional amendments be published in the newspaper.

There are still dozens of bill still working through the legislative process.

VCOG will continue to fight the bill that would close off access to concealed handgun permit applications at the courthouse. As the recent shooting in Appomattox shows, there is value in being able to review the qualifications of individual permit holders. Similarly, there is value in insuring that permit applications are being properly processed so as not to under-collect information and not to over-collect information.

And, we will work on a provision in a clerk of courts bill that says out-of-state entities seeking a subscription to remote access to land records have to have to be in good standing to do business in Virginia. The provision concerns us because it could potentially block out-of-state individual citizens, researchers, genealogists or historians could be blocked).

We support several bills that are still "alive," too:

* A spate of House ethics reform bills that would open proceedings and records up to the public (ironically, the notice for the subcommittee first considering this bill never posted an agenda);
* A bill to open up Virginia's FOI Act to residents of other states (Virginia is currently one of only five states that prohibit non-citizens from making FOIA requests);
* A bill to refine to the definition of criminal incident information;
* A handful of FOIA Council-sponsored bills (some are very technical);
* A bill to ensure that meetings are never held in places where cameras are prohibited; and
* Another tweak to what and how Commonwealth DataPoint displays budget information on its Web site.

Keep track of these bills' progress on VCOG's Web site ( on our Twitter feed ( and our Facebook page (

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