Sunshine Laws

Aug 20, 2013

A special panel of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council has declined to endorse legislation to require the State Corporation Commission to comply with many provisions of Virginia’s open-government laws. 

The Rights and Remedies subcommittee took up the issue at the request of a Fairfax Delegate who believes that many of the SCC’s activities are too shielded from the public. 

Supporters of the requirement say they’re seeking a middle ground that would still safeguard the SCC’s regulatory activities.

State law exempts the SCC from FOIA provisions, in part due to its judicial functions.  But Delegate Scott Surovell says because the SCC regulates utilities, it needs more transparency.

“The State Corporation Commission has jurisdiction and ultimate decision-making authority over how much people pay for their electric bill, their phone bill, for their health insurance, for their auto insurance.  It regulates banks.”

Surovell says some regulated businesses objected to opening up potentially proprietary information, so his bill would now cover routine government functions, such as procurement.
“At least start the process of applying FOIA to the SCC by only applying it at first to the administrative functions and the clerk functions.”

But the SCC says it responded to more than 20-thousand requests last year and places case filings and similar information on its website.  Spokesman Ken Shraad says the SCC does provide many documents.
“The State Corporation Commission operates under its own set of statutes, including one that specifically addresses that public records of the Commission are available to the public.”

Surovell says he still may introduce the bill at the next General Assembly session.