KIYC: Lawmakers put controversial public records bill on hold to add amendments

Kane In Your Corner first reported about the proposed legislation on Monday, when it was fast-tracked through two legislative committees.

Walt Kane

Mar 14, 2024, 9:38 PM

Updated 31 days ago

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A controversial bill that would have dramatically reduced New Jersey residents’ ability to find out what government agencies are doing has been put on hold, while lawmakers work on amendments.
Kane In Your Corner first reported about the proposed legislation on Monday, when it was fast-tracked through two legislative committees. The bill was scheduled to advance to an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday but was pulled an hour before the hearing was scheduled to start.
In a statement, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D – Woodbridge) says, “We are working on various amendments to ensure we get the bill right,” adding, “We will take the time to meet various stakeholders." Some of those stakeholders had complained that legislative leaders had promised them input into the legislation but then wrote, released and fast-tracked it without even talking to them.
The legislation, as originally proposed, would have gutted much of the state’s Open Public Records Act. It met with opposition from good government groups, news organizations and labor unions, who contended it would lead to more secrecy and corruption. Even the New Jersey State Comptroller Kevin Walsh testified against it.
There is no official word on what amendments might be in the works. Some of the bill’s more controversial proposals included restricting access to government emails and allowing government agencies to sue people who request records. The bill would also have overturned a key provision of OPRA which says agencies that willfully violate the law must pay the attorney fees of members of the public who go to court to gain access. The bill would make that optional.
Attorney CJ Griffin, who specializes in open records law, told Kane In Your Corner that the change would have a chilling effect on access to records, since “The average person probably doesn't have… thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer to go to court. And even if they do, they probably don't want to use their savings just to fight over a document.”


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