One Virginia lawmaker is hoping to strike a deal on FOIA fees
Public documents are supposed to be available to the public. Although sometimes they come at a price.
Senator Danica Roem is a Democrat from Prince William County and a former journalist. So, she knows that local governments often use exorbitant fees to restrict access to public documents. That's why she has a bill aimed at fixing the problem.
"When I have a constituent who is charged $8,800 to see a video and emails about her autistic daughter being dragged off of a school bus by two adults who used their knees to push her; that means the system is broken," Roem says.
Her bill would require local governments to offer eight free hours of researching FOIA requests – those are billable hours they can currently charge for. Joe Lerch at the Virginia Association of Counties is opposed to the bill.
"Our members are concerned about the impacts and the administrative burden even beyond the added cost for the eight free hours," Lerch says. "In addition, we’re hearing from our members that they’re getting more FOIA requests year after year, and it seems to be increasing."
Roem says she’s willing to work with local governments and sheriff’s offices to see if they might be able to strike a deal so that everyone’s on board with the effort to make sure excessive fees don’t become a barrier to public information.