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Data act coverage expanded to include "constitutional" officers

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Data act coverage expanded to include “constitutional” officers

  • The Virginia legislature has revised the Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, which protects the privacy of government officials, so that it now applies to “constitutional” officers as well as other state government officials.

Feb. 26, 2003 — Under a Feb. 23 amendment, Virginia’s data dissemination law now covers “constitutional” officers — those whose office was specifically created by the state constitution. The state’s high court had held that the previous language of that law did not cover them.

The legislature in February 2002 similarly changed the state’s Freedom of Information Act to apply to constitutional officers after a court ruling that they were not subject to that act.

The Virginia Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act ensures that records on individuals are not abused and that government employees are protected, according to Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

The amendment responds to a Feb. 5 Virginia Supreme Court ruling that the act did not apply to constitutional officers, and that Chesapeake City Treasurer Barbara Carraway therefore did not violate it when she gave a newspaper reporter information from political opponent Elizabeth Hill’s employment file.

Hill, a previous employee of Carraway, decided in May 2001 to run against Carraway for city treasurer. In response to accusations made by Hill that Carraway had failed to “register a charity group,” Carraway gave information from Hill’s personnel file to a newspaper reporter.

According to court documents, Carraway told the reporter that Hill was “released” from the treasurer’s office following only three weeks of employment. Hill successfully sued Carraway claiming that she had violated the data dissemination act provisions for “collection, retention, and dissemination” of personal information.

On appeal, the state supreme court reversed, ruling that the act applies only to “agencies” and does not apply to constitutional officers. An independent public official’s authority is derived from the Constitution of Virginia, although the responsibilities of the position may be determined by statute, the court had ruled.

The 15-word amendment provides that the definition of an agency “includes constitutional officers, except as otherwise expressly provided by law.”

In 2001 the Virginia Supreme Court distinguished “constitutional” officers from other public officers in Connell v. Kersey, finding that the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which requires that “public bodies” make records available, did not specifically apply to “constitutional officers.”

(Carraway v. Hill) PC

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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