With the stroke of a pen in late March, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore signed into law a bill revamping that state's entire Freedom of Information Act. Developed by Virginia lawmakers and media advocates, the compromise legislation brought many changes, both large and small, to the Commonwealth's open records law.
Not every state has so drastically reworked its laws affecting the press. Many less intrusive changes were proposed in the nation's state capitals in the last year Keeping abreast of these changes, however, is of vital importance to the working journalist.
Every year, The Reporters Committee polls state press associations, media lawyers and journalism professors about legislative activity in their states that could affect the rights of journalists to gather information from a variety of sources, both public and private. What follows is a summary of those state initiatives.
Perhaps the most significant legislative activity centered around the tension between open records laws and privacy, as legislatures grappled with what, and how much, information to make public.
Virginia's legislators elected to adopt the legal presumption requiring that all public records and meetings are open unless an exemption is properly invoked. Additionally, 70-plus exemptions to disclosure in the old law were rewritten, with a sharp battle erupting over the exemption for the working papers and memoranda of the governor and other government officials.
In Arizona, Gov. Jane Dee Hull vetoed a bill that would have made evaluations of school personnel confidential. However, a bill passed into the books unchallenged by Hull allowing the home addresses of police officers to remain secret.
California proposed a "Personal Information and Privacy Act," which would restrict the disclosure and dissemination of personal information by the government and criminalized violations.
A number of states, including Colorado and South Carolina moved to block the sale of driver's license photos last spring following public outcry at the revelation that a New Hampshire corporation was using state open records law to gather the information for sale to retailers. …