National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

New delegates push for more transparency, stronger FOIA laws in Virginia

Getting public records can be challenging in Virginia, where the state attorney general’s office once charged nearly $15,000 for the release of emails related to then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) ties to a well-connected businessman.

But 2018 may be a year for greater transparency, with two journalists  entering the House of Delegates determined to revise Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and Fairfax County — the state’s largest jurisdiction — launching a policy officials say will make it easier for the public to get public records.

Dels.-elect Danica Roem (D-Prince William) and Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg) say they know all about being blocked from getting records in Virginia.

Virginia’s 49-year-old statute is considered among the most restrictive in the country, with about 150 exemptions barring the release of certain information, which often results in heavily redacted documents. Advocates say the rules and the high prices agencies charge to produce documents that can be made public hamper journalists, community activists and ordinary citizens who seek information on topics that range from police investigations to safety inspections and local school test scores.

“It’s gotten to the point where I generally don’t even bother filing a FOIA request,” said Robert B. Weir, who chairs the planning commission in the town of Haymarket and, in 2016, was denied Prince William County records related to a new computer data center until he initiated a lawsuit. “It’s not worth the frustration or the expense.” Read more…