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W.Va. governor signs bill with big FOIA changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Public access to information in West Virginia is set to take both a step forward and backwards after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill on Wednesday that featured a compromise between gun rights advocates and the state’s press association.

Tomblin’s signature enacts House Bill 2636 which had been referred to as the FOIA or Freedom of Information Act Bill during the 2015 legislative session.

The law contains several components.

The first requires the Secretary of State to maintain a database of all Freedom of Information Act requests and removes the ability for government agencies to charge money for preparing the information needed to fulfill the request.

The second aspect of the bill removes the ability for individuals or organizations to request specific information pertaining to concealed carry gun permits.

The bill also clarifies the definition of what is considered public record. Currently a public record is defined as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business, prepared, owned and retained by a public body.”

The latest bill changes the language to include “any writing containing information prepared or received by a public body, the content or context of which, judged either by content or context, relates to the conduct of the public’s business.” That essentially permits an email sent to a public official, regardless of the content, to be requested. The updated language comes after a 2009 state Supreme Court decision involving former Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard and then-Massey CEO Don Blankenship which protected personal emails of public officials and employees from being released in response to a FOIA request…

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