Sometimes, it almost seems as if our elected officials want to keep us in the dark.
The General Assembly has come to Richmond. This can be an uneasy time for anyone who doesn’t believe our legislators always have our best interests at heart. This year is proving to be no exception. Among the early bills getting notice is one that seems aimed at hobbling the Freedom of Information Act.
Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, is pushing a bill that would require that all FOIA requests for public records be submitted by certified mail.
The way it works now, requests for such information can be made by email, by letter, over the phone or in person. Under Krizek’s bill, requesting FOIA material would require making a trip to the post office and either using certified mail or a first-class tracking system. Sending something via certified mail costs $3.75.
Obviously, this bill, should it pass, would be a deterrent for many ordinary citizens trying to get information to which they are legally entitled. It would also make things tougher for state agencies who handle FOIA requests the way most things are handled in the 21st century — digitally. Full disclosure: It would be a nuisance for news media operations as well.
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Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch she was stunned that such an idea would appear in the year 2022. In the 1980s, she was a public information officer for the Department of Motor Vehicles and even then the public asked for records by phone, not by mail.
“I don’t understand this,” Edwards said.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said the legislation would upend many FOIA processes used by government and “would be a cost and a hindrance to citizens, many of whom can’t afford FOIA requests because of the high fees already, and also they sometimes are working full time and can’t get to a post office on their time off to go file a FOIA request. It would be narrowing the options down instead of expanding access.”
Delegate Krizek says he’s open to amending the bill. He should be. He says he filed it after a FOIA request sent to his office went into spam, and he doesn’t check his spam every day, so he couldn’t respond in the five days public officials are given to respond.
There is a solution to this. After consulting the most learned computer experts, it has been ascertained that the delegate could fix this problem by checking his spam every day. If he’s too busy, maybe an aide could handle this burdensome task.
Missing a FOIA request because it went into spam is hardly reason enough to propose something so draconian that it would no doubt prove to discourage many who are legally entitled to know what their government officials are doing.
A cynic might think that some of the folks we’ve elected don’t really want to deal with the pesky public.
Make us less cynical and amend this bill — with a shredder.
— Adapted from an editorial in
The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star