The executive director of Virginia Coalition for Open Government, Forrest M. Landon, is retiring June 30. In his last blog post, he explained some of the key points about the law. Here are some additional thoughts about the law and a few of the nuances. Also, read about Penalties and Judicial Records. These documents may be difficult to obtain for people with limited legal knowledge. In Virginia, the state’s open government laws are based on the Freedom of Information Act.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has an Open Records Act that does not rely on exemptions. Exclusions typically refer to categorical removals from disclosure. The Virginia Code has some notable exceptions to this rule. Some of these exclusions are described below. These examples of non-disclosure are not exhaustive and are not intended to be used in deciding whether a record is public. It is important to review the exemptions in full to fully understand the law’s limitations.
While some government agencies are exempt from the Act, they must produce non-exempt computer records. This doesn’t require them to use an unusual format, and they must make every reasonable effort to comply with the request. Further, the law does not restrict the excision of exempt data fields, or conversion from one available format to another. This ambiguity in the Virginia Code is reflected in inconsistent application of the word “exempt,” which refers to records that do not exist.
The Public Records Act covers records kept by public bodies in the transaction of public business. The definition of public bodies is provided in Va. Code Ann. SS 2.2-3701, which includes the governing body of a county, school board, planning commission, and public institutions of higher education. While these records are subject to the Act, there are some private entities that are exempt. In Virginia, public records laws also apply to private entities.
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government (VCOG) is a nonprofit coalition that works to ensure citizens’ access to government records, meetings, and proceedings. Their focus is on expanding access to local/state information, though the group does lobbying within IRS rules. Penalties for violating these laws are typically in the form of fines and imprisonment. They are a good way to get involved and spread the word about open government transparency.
Fees for requesting public records can be high, but there are ways to avoid them. Virginia has a subcommittee for the Act that is currently studying fees for public records. Fees can include a fee for labor or materials that the government has to pay. The Virginia coalition advocates for low, consistent, and transparent fees. This approach will encourage public officials to comply with the Act and provide access to government documents.
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government encourages public bodies to disclose public records, as long as those records are relevant to the conduct of the public. The Act does not rely on exemptions, which generally refer to categorical removal of records from public disclosure. It is therefore possible to obtain public records from state agencies that refuse to share them. However, the penalties for violating the law are severe. The Virginia Coalition for Open Government encourages transparency in government, and this is what we’ll be discussing today.
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government (VCOG) is a nonprofit organization that engages citizens in monitoring government. The organization presses government agencies to make public records, meetings, and judicial proceedings available to the public. It is largely focused on local/state government information access, though it does lobbying within the IRS guidelines. In addition to pressing for greater access to government information, VCOG works with individuals who are seeking to hold public officials accountable for a variety of issues.
In Virginia, the Act does not have any exemptions that categorically exclude information from disclosure. It also covers phone call logs, which are considered public records. However, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Taylor v. Worrell Enterprises that a judicial clerk may refuse to release an itemized list of long distance calls based on the separation of powers. The act also applies to electronic records, like emails and text messages.
Besides judicial records, citizens can inspect public records of other public bodies. The definition of a public record includes all written and recorded information in the possession of the public body. In Virginia, the term “public record” encompasses all public documents. A public body must make these records available to the public for inspection and copying. To access these records, a requester must have his or her name and address, as well as proof of citizenship.