Why a Virginia judge got it wrong on student COVID-19 data

BY: - September 15, 2021

Last week a Rockingham County Circuit Judge ruled in favor of James Madison University in a case brought by the editor of JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze, over access to the per-day number of COVID-positive cases per on-campus residence. Armchair-quarterback that I am, I’ve read the ruling, and probably unsurprisingly, I disagree. The ruling says […]

The Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee convened June 23 in what may have been its last virtual meeting.

Governance via Zoom is coming to an end in Virginia. Should it?

BY: and - June 28, 2021

For more than a year, policymakers across Virginia have been able to log on and conduct public business from whatever room, or car, they happen to be in. But public bodies will have to transition back to in-person meetings after June 30, the expiration date of the state of emergency Gov. Ralph Northam declared at […]


Change the culture of contempt for FOIA

BY: - May 20, 2021

One of the coverage areas the Mercury set out to focus on when we launched nearly three years ago was Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and the issues that perennially swirl around it like the constant cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen from “Peanuts.” Virginia’s open records law doesn’t just suffer from problems with its […]

A Virginia lawmaker wants to make FOIA requests cheaper or free. Some government and police groups aren’t happy about it.

BY: - May 19, 2021

To make the case for why Virginia’s public-records law needs to work better for reporters and citizens alike, Del. Danica Roem told the story of a constituent, Stephanie Minor, who Roem said spent seven months fighting Prince William County Public Schools for access to video footage showing her autistic daughter being dragged off a school […]

FOIA bill allows some access to criminal investigation records

BY: - April 20, 2021

By Anya Sczerzenie/ Capital News Service A bill allowing the public access to limited criminal investigation records will go into effect in July, along with a handful of other bills related to government transparency. Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, a former television reporter, introduced House Bill 2004. The bill requires files related to non-ongoing criminal investigations […]


When facing a crisis, the front door is the best approach

BY: - March 9, 2021

Where should the proposed landfill be located? Who is the most qualified candidate to be the new school superintendent? How much did it cost to implement that program? Politic me would say in response to all three questions, “I really don’t know.” Impolitic me would say, “I really don’t care.” That is, I don’t know […]

Va. House committee advances bill giving FOIA exemption to new Northam cabinet officials

BY: - February 2, 2021

Two recently created cabinet-level positions in Gov. Ralph Northam’s office would gain a broad exemption from Virginia’s public-records laws under a bill advanced Tuesday by a House of Delegates committee. The legislation would extend the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s working papers and correspondence exemption, often criticized by open-government advocates as creating a vaguely defined […]


Not so much ‘outright awful’: A round-up FOIA legislation in the 2021 session

BY: - January 22, 2021

If there is a silver lining to a clunky yet frenetic mostly-virtual General Assembly session, it is that there are fewer bills to sift through: 1,098 bills and resolutions this year compared with 3,911 last year. Consequently, there are also fewer bills affecting the Freedom of Information Act and access to government information than last […]

A Virginia attorney has been seeking sealed papers from a major anti-immigrant activist for years. What do they show?

BY: - January 7, 2021

In 2016, Virginia-based immigration lawyer Hassan Ahmad sent the University of Michigan a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to access sealed papers donated to the university by John Tanton, a prominent anti-immigration activist from Michigan. But the public university denied the request until 2035. After years of lower court battles and lawsuits, the issue […]

Virginia State Capitol

Virginia FOIA Council supports looser rules for public officials governing remotely

BY: - December 2, 2020

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council on Wednesday declared its support for loosening state laws on electronic meetings, backing legislation to give members of local boards more leeway to call in to public meetings instead of attending in person. Supporters of the change, which still has to be approved by the General Assembly, say […]

Push to open police records to public inspection continues in Virginia

BY: - October 22, 2020

Police in Virginia almost never release case files and body camera footage, even long after their investigations have concluded. A bill aimed at changing that failed during the special legislative session, which concluded last week. But lawmakers are already working to revise the legislation in response to concerns raised by police about graphic crime scene […]


Motives shouldn’t matter when it comes to FOIA requests

BY: - October 16, 2020

In a tumultuous 2020, when it seems like everything is fraying at the seams, there are still certainties. Death. Taxes. And Virginia officials flouting the spirit and letter of the state’s Freedom of Information Act — which says it “ensures the people of the commonwealth ready access to public records in the custody of a […]