Threat Assessment Team bills -- campus confusion

Following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, the Virginia General Assembly mandated that public universities set up Threat Assessment Teams (TATs) to identify and evaluate students, staff or faculty who might pose a threat to the campus communities.

The teams are made up of representatives from student affairs, law enforcement, human resources, counseling services, residence life and others as may be needed.

When the teams began meeting, they found that many of the representatives felt hamstrung by various state and federal laws that prohibited them from sharing information -- health records, mental health records, personnel files, criminal histories -- with each other.

To rectify that situation, Sen. John Edwards and Del. Rob Bell introduced identical bills this year spelling out that yes, the parties can share the information.

But SB207 and HB903 go further than that. Both include a FOIA exemption for all of the records generated by the TATs.

The House passed HB903 as introduced. The Senate, however, deleted the FOIA exemption from SB207 (recommending that it be sent to the FOIA Council for study) before passing the rest.

Then it got complicated:

A Senate subcommittee considering HB903 recommended deleting the FOIA exemption.

The House subcommittee considering SB207 wants to put the FOIA exemption back in.

Here is what the FOIA exemption does:

It says that ALL records generated by the TATs are exempt for ALL TIME. Period.

Here is why VCOG opposes such a broad exemption:

There is no guaranteed public oversight of the TATs, even if another Tech-style shooting should occur on a public university campus.

VCOG supported an amendment offered by the Virginia Press Association saying that if some violent act occurred on campus, the TAT's records could be released with respect to the individual involved in the incident.

Here are what records the VPA exemption would apply to:

  • The TAT's evaluations
  • The TAT's recommendations
  • The TAT's action plans
  • The TAT's meeting minutes or notes

Here is what would NOT be subject to disclosure under the VPA amendment:

  • Student (scholastic) records
  • Personnel records
  • Health records
  • Mental health records
  • Criminal histories
  • Criminal investigation records
  • Student complaints

Though the TATs have been meeting since 2008, and have presumably been candid in their deliberations since then (no one testified about problems in past or current deliberations), college representatives and some delegates in subcommittee worried that without the full FOIA exemption, team members would not feel free to discuss individuals honestly.

Under the VPA amendment, the records would be released ONLY if something happened. We trust the professionalism of team members to put the needs of the campus community and general public above their own possible embarrassment.

If you think this FOIA exemption goes too far, contact your delegate and tell him/her.

Don't know who your Delegate or Senator is? Go to the Who's My Legislator Web site.

Here are the delegates on the House Education Committee, which is currently considering SB207 (subcommittee members are in bold): Tata (Chairman), Landes, Lingamfelter, Rust, Cole, Athey, Pogge, Massie, Loupassi, Gear, Greason, Bell, Richard P., Stolle, LeMunyon, Shuler, Alexander, Ebbin, Ware, O., McClellan, Tyler, Bulova, Morrissey

Here are the senators on the Senate General Laws Committee, which is currently considering HB903 (subcommittee members are in bold): Locke (Chairman), Colgan, Houck, Wampler, Stosch, Martin, Ruff, Wagner, Herring, Hurt, Petersen, Barker, Vogel, Miller, J.C., Marsden

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