A story in the Intelligencer, Wheeling News Register, Public Shut Out of Records, published November 4, 2007, details how West Virginia’s public records law has not aged very well:
West Virginia’s FOIA law originally only contained eight reasons why a government agency could withhold information from the public. These exemptions mirrored several in the open meetings law, and also covered such areas as trade secrets, internal documents and “test questions, scoring keys and other examination data” used by schools and licensing agencies.
But the number of exemptions doubled in 2003 as lawmakers sought to protect “information that could be used in a terrorist act that would have a detrimental effect on public safety or public health.”
“The reaction to 9/11, and perhaps the reaction to identity theft, seem to be more of a knee-jerk reaction,” said Patrick McGinley, a West Virginia University law professor who has helped state residents pursue FOIA requests in court. “The question in those cases really ought to be, is there a compelling reason to make these things secret.”
One of the original eight exemptions shields “information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.”
Armed with that provision, legislators have peppered other sections of state code with 68 additional exemptions, the AP’s review shows.
This commentary on West Virginia was part of a 50-state study conducted in part by the National Freedom of Information Coalition. They found sad results nationwide:
Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition give 38 out of 50 states "F" grade in overall responses to FOI requests. Read more here.
America deserves better.
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