Earlier this session, I had my first experience going against the Establishment, when I pushed forward my constitutional amendment giving all tax credits a five (5) year sunset. That bill passed committee, but then was crushed on the floor.
Today I made a similar quixotic effort when I attempted to amend a bill which grants the General Assembly an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.
Yes, that’s correct. Every government agency and every local official in Virginia (county board, school board, sheriff, clerk, prosecutor, mayor, et al) is subject to FOIA except …. the General Assembly and their staff!
My floor amendment would have ended that exemption, except for communications with counsel regarding drafting legislation. My reasoning is simple: it’s hypocritical for us to apply FOIA to local officials when we exempt ourselves.
My amendment was defeated on a voice vote. I couldn’t get a recorded vote.
Those who spoke against it emphasized that we handle “confidential” or “personal” matters from our constituents. Therefore, even though our staff and our offices are tax supported, the opponents argued that those communications from constituents, advocates and lobbyists (yes, that happens), should remain private.
A couple obvious responses: all public officials handle inquiries of a personal nature. There’s nothing unique to us. (BTW, personal identifying information is already exempt from FOIA disclosure). The key distinction is that we are public officials. Any communication with us is presumptively public information. Why are we so afraid to adopt the same laws as everyone else?
Always lead from the front. By exempting itself from FOIA, the Assembly is doing the exact opposite and, yes, it’s totally hypocritical.