By shrinking FOIA’s scope, General Assembly aims to cover up misbehavior

Two bills submitted for the upcoming session of the General Assembly — one in the House, one in the Senate — are designed to restrict the public’s access to information about wrongdoing by public officials.

These restrictions will make it more difficult for taxpayers to learn about misuse of their money by local governments, school boards, and state-run colleges and universities.

On the House side, Delegate Peter Farrell (R-Henrico) has introduced HB174, summarized like this:

Virginia Freedom of Information Act; administrative investigations; local inspectors general.Adds a records exemption for administrative investigations conducted by a local inspector general or other local investigator appointed by the local governing body of any county, city, or town or a school board who by charter, ordinance, or statute has responsibility for conducting an investigation relating to allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse by any officer, employee, department, or program of the locality or school division. Amends § 2.2-3705.3, of the Code of Virginia.

In the other chamber, Senator Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) is patron of SB78:

Virginia Freedom of Information Act; record exemption for administrative investigations by public institutions of higher education. Exempts from FOIA administrative investigations conducted by a public institution of higher education relating to individual employment discrimination complaints or audits/investigations of any officer, department, or program at such institutions. Amends § 2.2-3705.3, of the Code of Virginia.

I don’t know who these Republican legislators are trying to protect from the disinfecting sunlight of public scrutiny, but any legislation that restricts the access of voters and taxpayers from the work product of public servants had better have very clear, indisputable justification before it is voted into law.

Someone should ask Farrell and Ruff: “At whose behest have you submitted these bills? What malfeasance are they trying to hide from us, and why are you abetting them?”

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