Beginning January 1, county boards of education must report any freedom of information act (FOIA) requests to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office. Dinsmore’s Education Law Practice Group first told you about the change in the law in an April 2015, education alert titled: Changes to Law Regarding FOIA Requets.
That alert, among other things, provided county boards with an update of the law following the 2015 Legislative Session in which W. Va. Code 29B-1-3 was amended to specifically prevent state or local officials from charging a fee to research and retrieve public records.
The alert also informed county boards that the reporting requirements to the Secretary of State’s Office become effective January 1, 2016. The Secretary of State, under the applicable law, is now required by legislation to keep a public database of FOIA requests, along with other information.
Specifically, W. Va. Code 29B-1-3 provides:
(a) Beginning January 1, 2016, each public body that is in receipt of a freedom of information request shall provide information to the Secretary of State relating to, at a minimum, the nature of the request, the nature of the public body’s response, the time-frame that was necessary to comply in full with the request; and the amount of reimbursement charged to the requester for the freedom of information request: Provided, That the public body shall not provide to the Secretary of State the public records that were the subject of the FOIA request.
In order to enter information into the Secretary of State’s database, state agencies and county and municipal governments must create an electronic account. Directions can be found here to set up an account. The Secretary of State’s office also has a number of Frequently Asked Questions that are helpful, including time reporting requirements to the database. For example:
Q: When is the FOIA request to be reported to the database?
A: Any request received must be reported to the database by the 10th day of the month following the completion of the request. For example, if an agency completes a request on April 15, it must be reported to the database by May 10, but may be reported to the database at any time between those two dates.