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Bills limit Freedom of Information Act for public universities

House, Senate vote to restrict access to investigations, audits, other information

Members of the Virginia HouseVirginia House and Senate offered bills on Jan. 8 which modify the Freedom of Information Act. The matching proposals target a change in the amount of information Virginia’s public education institutions are required to release to citizens.

Virginia FOIA laws allow citizens of the state to request records from any public institution or agency, with some exceptions for privacy and security. The proposals are directed at changing specific state FOIA regulations, and changes would not affect federal FOIA requests.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Frank M. Ruff, R-Bedford, and Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, seeks to modify the status of college and university requests.

“Universities and colleges are [currently] a little bit different than the rest of the state government [in respect to FOIA],” Ruff said. “What this bill does is it brings the universities in line with the rest of state government.”

The proposed bills will likely have no profound effect on the University’s operations and confidentiality policies, according to University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, whose office deals with FOIA requests.

“The proposed amendment is already consistent with [the] University’s current practice of treating complaint investigations and related documents as highly confidential,” de Bruyn said in an email.

Though University policy will not need to be significantly modified to comply with the proposed bill, its passing would provide further security for those involved in investigations or those who have provided the University with confidential information.

“Assurance that records related to complaint investigations are not subject to public disclosure under FOIA encourages parties and witnesses to cooperate fully with investigations, which in turn assists the University in reaching accurate and fair complaint resolutions and ensures the University’s continued compliance with the state and federal policies and law,” de Bruyn said.

The House voted unanimously to pass Albo’s bill Monday. The Senate bill unanimously passed the General Laws Committee Monday, and will be put before the Senate by Friday.


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