A Bad Bill Percolating in West-By-Gawd…

Bad ideas, West Virginia style:

A document’s content or context would help determine its release under West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, under an update to the open government law unanimously passed Wednesday by the House of Delegates.

Delegates advanced the measure to the Senate after a party-line vote rebuffed a GOP-sponsored amendment. It’s the first bill exchanged in the Legislature since the regular session began last week.

The law exempts records deemed internal memos or letters. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead sought to limit that to cases where the contents are covered by a separate exemption.

The Kanawha County Republican’s amendment also proposed that when a criminal investigation prompts charges, the agency involved compile a report that can be disclosed under FOIA unless it would hinder prosecution. The law now specifically exempts several categories of law enforcement records.

The amendment failed after Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said it would greatly alter the bill and go beyond what his committee considered when it endorsed the measure on Friday.

The bill defines a public record as any writing prepared or received by a public body, if its content or context relates to the public’s business. Lawmakers have sought to revise that term since a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling rejected a FOIA lawsuit by The Associated Press.

Baaaaad idea, West Virginia. Why does “context” have anything whatsoever at all to do with whether a document is public or not? Who does medium matter either? A document is public unless it meets one of the state’s exemptions to disclosure. See? Isn’t that easier? Context is all in the eye of the beholder. If it’s a record that does not meet an exemption, it’s public. Simple as that. Don’t allow context to stick its nose under the tent…

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