FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
The Honorable R. Edward Houck
Member, Senate of Virginia
staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your inquiry
of March 22, 2006.
Dear Senator Houck:
have asked whether a joint committee of conference of the
General Assembly could hold a closed meeting in order to discuss
matters concerning the 2004-2006 and 2006-2008 Budget Bills1
without violating the Virginia Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA). The public policy of FOIA as stated in § 2.2-3700
is that [u]nless a public body or its officers or employees
specifically elect to exercise an exemption provided by this
chapter or any other statute, every meeting shall be open
to the public...All public records and meetings shall be presumed
open, unless an exemption is properly invoked. Subsection
A of § 2.2-3707 specifies that [a]ll meetings of
public bodies shall be open, except as provided in §§
2.2-3707.01 and 2.2-3711. Therefore it must be determined
whether any exemption exists that would allow a joint committee
of conference to convene a closed meeting for the stated purpose
of discussing matters related to state budget bills.
first to § 2.2-3707.01, concerning meetings of the General
Assembly, subsection B provides that joint committees
of conference of the General Assembly; or a quorum of any
such committees ..., shall be open and governed by this chapter.
Section 2.2-3707.01 does not contain any exemptions permitting
closed meetings to be convened; such exemptions are found
in § 2.2-3711.
A of § 2.2-3711 lists 36 purposes for which a public
body is permitted to convene a closed meeting. Several of
these closed meeting exemptions are exemptions of general
applicability (i.e., apply to both state and local public
bodies) that relate to particular types of financial matters.
For example, there are exemptions concerning the acquisition
or disposition of real property by a public body;2 discussion
concerning a prospective business or industry or the expansion
of an existing business or industry;3 discussion or consideration
of the investment of public funds where competition or bargaining
is involved;4 and discussion of the award of a public contract
involving the expenditure of public funds.5 There is an exemption
for discussion by the Governor and any economic advisory board
reviewing forecasts of economic activity and estimating general
and nongeneral fund revenues.6 There is also an exemption for
discussion, consideration or review by the appropriate House
or Senate committees of possible disciplinary action against
a member arising out of the possible inadequacy of the disclosure
statement filed by the member.7 Except as noted above, most
of the exemptions in § 2.2-3711 are limited for use by
specific public bodies, and all are limited to discussion,
consideration or deliberation of specifically identified topics.
Further, the public policy of FOIA as stated in § 2.2-3700
is that [a]ny exemption from public access to records
or meetings shall be narrowly construed and no record shall
be withheld or meeting closed to the public unless specifically
made exempt pursuant to this chapter or other specific provision
of law. Unless one of the exemptions found in §
2.2-3711 would apply to specific portions of the Budget Bill,
there is no other basis for a joint committee of conference
to convene a closed meeting. Stated another way, there are
no special provisions for a joint committee of conference
to hold a closed meeting.
Finally, my research has revealed no legal
provisions outside of FOIA that would permit a joint committee
of conference to convene a closed meeting for the purpose
at issue. Therefore, I must conclude that a joint committee
of conference of the General Assembly may not hold a closed
meeting in order to discuss matters concerning the Budget
Bills in question, unless one of the exemptions found in §
2.2-3711 would apply to specific portions of the Budget Bill.
Thank you for contacting this office. I
hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett
Bill 29 and House Bill 30 (2006) (both bills failed to pass
prior to adjournment sine die of the 2006 Regular Session
of the General Assembly).
2Subdivision A 3 of § 2.2-3711.
3Subdivision A 5 of § 2.2-3711.
4Subdivision A 6 of § 2.2-3711.
5Subdivision A 30 of § 2.2-3711.
6Subdivision A 14 of § 2.2-3711.
7Subdivision A 12 of § 2.2-3711 (the only
exemption in § 2.2-3711 specific to the General Assembly).