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A Look at the FOIA-Related Bills That Made Moves in the General Assembly This Year

The General Assembly is full of part-time lawmakers, people who bring their professional experience to the legislature. And that includes former journalists.

Former journalists in the Virginia General Assembly are increasing access to public information. Governor Ralph Northam recently signed a bill introduced by Delegate Chris Hurst -- a former television news anchor -- that would open up police documents in closed cases. Currently police officials use their discretion to keep those documents secret. But now a new law will provide more transparency.

"Being able to look at what officers really wrote in their incident reports as they are describing what happened in an officer-involved shooting because if what they say in that incident report isn't matched up by body-camera footage or a witness testimony," Hurst explains. "That's really important stuff to know."

Delegate Danica Roem is a former newspaper journalist who now represents the community she used to cover. She introduced a bill now being considered by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council to prevent local governments from using fees and charges to block access to information.

"FOIA fees are used as a deterrent, and that's the problem," Roem says.

The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is expected to make a recommendation on that bill in time for the next session of the General Assembly in 2022.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.