National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

Virginia: A new push to increase government transparency

The election of two former journalists to the House of Delegates in last month’s elections may bode well for Virginians who see the need for greater transparency in state and local government and for a strengthened Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Danica Roem, a former newspaper reporter from Prince William County, and Chris Hurst, a former Roanoke television news anchor from Blacksburg, know firsthand the hurdles they’ve had to jump over to get information out of government agencies as professional journalists. They can only begin to imagine how the average Virginian, untrained in the ins and outs of FOIA procedure, feels trying to pry information from their government. They’re setting out to try to loosen what legal experts have described as one of the nation’s most restrictive FOIA laws at the state level.

Virginia’s FOIA statute was written and enacted 49 years ago and has more than 150 exemptions written into the law, which often result in requests being denied or fulfilled with heavy redactions. That’s just the beginning for what the public has to overcome to gain information about their own government’s activities. Offices are able to assess charges for compiling the data, often emails and other correspondence, that can sometimes reach five figures or more. Read more…