TRENTON – Two bills (S1451 and S1452) aimed at increasing government transparency were released from the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee meeting on Monday afternoon along party lines by a 3-0-2 vote.
Republican senators Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Medford, and Samuel Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge, abstained, saying they didn’t have a chance to read last-minute amendments to the bills.
The two bills were second-referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee to address the issue of costs associated with their implementation.
S1451 revises laws concerning public meetings related to the Open Public Meetings Act, while S1452 changes rules related to the Open Public Records Act.
S1452 would also formally name the Open Public Records Act as the “Martin O’Shea Open Public Records Act.”
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, is the primary sponsor of both bills.
S1451 amends certain provisions for closed sessions and outlines requirements for public discussion at meetings, among many other measures.
The bill would also expand a requirement for public comment at meetings currently in place for council and school board bodies to meetings of all public bodies, except the Legislature.
S1451 would also require public bodies that have internet sites to post meeting notices, agendas, minutes of meetings, resolutions, and ordinances.
S1452 would tighten timelines for responses to OPRA requests, allow OPRA requests to be filed by anyone, not just residents of New Jersey, and would expand the Government Records Council.
The Government Records Council would, under the bill, also include the Attorney General and the president of the Municipal Clerks’ Association. The bill would also add four public members to the Government Records Council, who are all appointed by the governor. However, the Senate president, Assembly minority leader, Assembly speaker, and Senate minority leader would be able to recommend the new members.
John Donnadio, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, said he was happy to hear the legislation was going to the budgetary committee because he was concerned about the costs associated with S1451.
John Burns of the New Jersey School Boards Association asked that the bill not be enacted for 12 months.
“There may be additional costs associated with the legislation,” Burns said.
Many of the speakers at the hearing said they supported the intent of the bill but would hope some items would be tweaked.
Weinberg fielded questions from speakers and the committee during the hearing.
Weinberg said the bills are important because, “it’s clearly time for an update.”
The bills would also update the language in OPRA and OPMA to include certain internet notice requirements.
S465, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15), Trenton, which authorizes public access to government records through a government website in lieu of some OPRA requests, was packaged with S1452.
Bill S546, sponsored by Sen. Nia Gill, (D-34), of Montclair, removes email addresses provided to government entities to receive emergency alerts from being subject to the Open Public Records Act. S546 also passed as part of the S1452 vote.