FOI Daily Dose: Virginia adds FOIA exemptions; Michigan columnist says attempts to further state public records don’t go far enough

Virginia adds FOIA exemptions

Virginia’s General Assembly added new exemptions and language to the state’s Freedom of Information Act on July 1, making information more difficult to obtain, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council said of the 16 bills passed in the 2013 legislative session, four add new exemptions and 12 amend existing provisions.

The new exemptions effective until July 1, 2014, include:

  • An exemption allowing hospitals and nursing homes regulated by the Virginia Department of Health to withhold documents about disaster recovery and evacuation plans until an evaluation of the plans’ effectiveness after a disaster occurs
  • An exemption allowing parties giving trade secrets to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to keep their secrets safe by following a set of procedures
  • An exemption allowing airports to withhold documents related to their funding if releasing them would financially harm the airport
  • An exemption allowing the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Services Council to withhold records about training state prosecutors and law enforcement personnel that could compromise confidential strategies, methods or procedures

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council offers a full legislative update reviewing the changes.

Michigan columnist says attempts to further state’s public records law don’t go far enough

Representatives in Michigan have proposed legislation to make the state’s public records more easily attainable and create an administration hearing panel for records disputes. But a political columnist for MLive.com says the proposed measures to do not go far enough.

According to a July 8 post, columnist Matthew Davis said steps toward more transparency in the FOIA statute (see previous blog post) are headed in the right direction, but need more teeth to keep government in line.

Davis argues the act should require government agencies to pay for citizens’ time, efforts and attorneys fees for disclosure disputes when the government loses its case. He also thinks exemptions in the act should be limited to protecting information that is “truly sensitive” or could directly disrupt government operation. Read his column

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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