Bills to increase transparency await Senate votes

TRENTON – Two bills intended to provide greater public access to agencies that typically are not subject to such laws – as well as make it easier to obtain records – are up for a  vote Thursday in the Senate.

One bill, S1451, would revise the Open Public Meetings Act in that quasi-public agencies such as the New Jersey League of Municipalities, New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of Counties, and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association would be covered under OPMA.

The second, S1452, concerns the Open Public Records Act, and would involve the same quasi-public organizations.

The bills are sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), of Teaneck and Sen. Joe Pennacchio, (R-26), of Montville. Weinberg said the bills need to be enacted because “it’s clearly time for an update.”

Virtually all the groups said the bills are well-intended, but fear the added costs they could bring upon the respective governing bodies.

“The League continues to raise concerns regarding the real world impact of S1451 and S1452 on governments,” said NJLOM Executive Director Bill Dressel. “While well-intended, these bills add a number of requirements and responsibilities to local governments, which are under-staffed and under-funded already.

“While Senator Weinberg has been thorough in her discussions with stakeholders, including the League, ultimately these bills will not lead to more transparency, but more bureaucracy.”

At a prior Senate State Government Committee hearing, other groups that would be affected cited similar concerns.

John Donnadio, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, said 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 at the time of committee hearings.

The Office of Legislative Services said there would be an “indeterminate increase” in the costs the agencies would incur from things like attorney’s fees, compliance, compiling meeting minutes, and other administrative costs. 

The other bill, S1452, would change the Open Public Records Act by allowing an OPRA request to be made by anyone, not only residents of New Jersey, regarding those quasi-public agencies. The bill also calls for allowing OPRA requests to be e-mailed, or faxed if no it’s no longer than four pages.

 

 

Bills to increase transparency await Senate votes