ALEXANDRIA — It’s official. The legislative aides of Virginia’s 140 state senators and delegates have the same protections under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act as their bosses.
With the passage Friday of Delegate Tag Greason’s HB 1639, the Virginia House of Delegates added words to a debated portion of FOIA law, clarifying that legislative aides are simply an extension of their legislators when working for them, and thus have the same privacy protections for “working papers” and correspondence.
“When lawmakers start to redefine and expand exemptions, it is rarely a good thing for the public,” Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said in an email to Watchdog.org on Friday. “When it is an area like this one, where expansive and convoluted interpretations are already commonplace occurrences, it is even worse. The one thing that is certain is that it won’t lead to more transparency and accountability.”
Virginia’s 140 or so legislative aides earn a public salary of a little less than $40,000 annually, plus varying per diem. Bunting said he is unaware of other states that specifically include an exemption for legislative aides.