CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While one Republican-backed bill in the House of Delegates would increase the number of government documents available to the general public, another GOP-supported bill would lock down information related to concealed weapons permits.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, introduced a bill last Friday meant to make internal letters and memos from government bodies available to members of the public, unless the documents fall under another exemption of the state's Freedom of Information Act law.
The Freedom of Information Act allows citizens to access documents from public bodies. Reporters often use the law in their research, especially in cases where government agencies are less than willing to release the information.
West Virginia's FOIA law currently forbids the release of any internal letters or documents, however.
"To me, it's very important citizens be able to get information about what state government is doing," he said. "We don't think something should be exempt from public disclosure just because it's in the form of a letter or a memorandum."
Speaking at the West Virginia Press Association's annual legislative breakfast last week, Armstead said keeping internal letters and memos out of the public eye goes against the core intent of a FOIA law.
He said some exemptions in FOIA laws are legitimate, like provisions protecting citizens' private medical documents, or documents in ongoing police investigations.
But Armstead said in other states, documents are presumed to be public unless specifically excluded. West Virginia's code currently runs in the opposite direction.
"We don't really have that specific language in our FOIA," he said.
The bill will go before the House's Judiciary and Finance committees before it can reach a full floor vote. Armstead said he has discussed his bill with House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley and is hopeful the legislation will progress and receive bipartisan support.