Sunrise over V.A. Capitol.

September 23, 2004, Richmond

The HB 1357 Subcommittee, comprised of FOIA Council members Senator Houck, Delegate Griffith, Messrs. Bryan, Edwards, and Axselle,1 met to discuss the actions of the subcommittee of the Joint Rules Committee reviewing the provisions of HB 1357. The Joint Rules subcommittee had met immediately preceding the Council subcommittee. Delegate Griffith reported that the Joint Rules subcommittee had labored long and hard to develop rules to recommend to the full Joint Rules Committee concerning public access to meetings of the General Assembly, other than floor sessions, committee or subcommittee meetings and conference committee meetings or subcommittees of such entities, which by the provisions of HB 1357 are open to the public. Delegate Griffith stated that the Joint Rules subcommittee, after considerable deliberation and receiving comment from the public, had determined that no rules were required as HB 1357 had adequately addressed the issue of public access to meetings of the General Assembly. Delegate Griffith indicated that he would be making that recommendation to the Joint Rules Committee and stated that he believe the Joint Rules Committee would accept the recommendation of its subcommittee. Delegate Griffith was commended for the candid, open and inclusive manner used by the Joint Rules subcommittee as it deliberated on the provisions of HB 1357.

Mr. Edwards stated that he believed that HB 1357 was a mistake and that the FOIA Council should so state. He added that the good faith work to date would not necessarily preclude future rules from doing the wrong thing. Representatives of the Virginia Press Association, while commending Delegate Griffith for the candid discussion of the Joint Rules subcommittee, noted that the FOIA Council should take the stand that HB 1357 took the process into the internal workings of the General Assembly and moved away from public access. The Virginia Coalition for Open Government echoed the sentiments of the Virginia Press Association.

Senator Houck commented that the deliberations of the Joint Rules subcommittee should be a comfort to everyone in that bright minds had endeavored to craft a rule, but found it was impractical to decide such a rule without undermining the policy of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senator Houck, with the consensus of the Council subcommittee, recommended that the HB 1357 Subcommittee of the Council be established as a permanent subcommittee to monitor and react to future attempts by the Joint Rules Committee should it decide to establish access rules to other meetings of the General Assembly. Additionally, the Council subcommittee recommended that the Council commit to do more work in educating members of the General Assembly about FOIA, including the preparation of training and reference materials not just for new members of the General Assembly, but as an ongoing training effort for all members of the General Assembly. The final recommendation was offered by Delegate Griffith and related to committees of conference. He stated that he was aware that one goal of HB 1357 was to gain access to budget conferences; however, he stated that the provisions of the bill should not be interpreted to require face-to-face meetings of all committees of conference when in practice no real meetings occur with the vast majority of committees of conference. He noted that scope of discussion in committees of conference is limited to the matter in controversy--not every provision in a bill. These recommendations will be made to the full FOIA Council at its next meeting on December 2, 2004.

1All HB 1357 Subcommittee members were present.