Open Letter to New Jersey’s Senators Urging Support for S2512 (Amending OPRA) and S2511 (Amending OPMA

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June 24, 2013 Dear New Jersey’s State Senators: With the passage of time and well-documented technology advances, New Jersey’s “open government” legislation requires an upgrade and an update. Doing so is essential to ensure our State’s citizens have ready access to their government records and meetings; thereby affirming New Jersey’s policy of transparency in government. To this end, the undersigned strongly support passage of two bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Joseph Pennacchio. These bills properly accomplish what’s good for our State’s citizens and we strongly request all Senators support and vote YES for S2512 (amending OPRA) and S2511 (amending OPMA).

Amendments to the Open Public Records Act
S2512 amends various provisions of the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq. (“OPRA”) and advances its express purpose of ready access to government records. As examples: • Redacted records: Custodians will be required to provide requestors with the redacted version of the document and an affidavit stating the record’s date, author/originator, subject matter or title, number of pages with redactions, and the specific statutory provision or other lawful basis for each redaction. Only through receipt of such information can a requestor truly determine whether a redaction made is lawful or whether government is using it to hide information. Electronic records: Public agencies will be required to inform requestors when records may be electronically mailed without charge to the requestor. This obviously provides for easier access to government records and reduces the financial burden that would be imposed upon a requestor who is not aware that he/she can obtain the documents electronically and, instead, pays the agency statutory rates for hard copies of those records. Public agency websites: Custodians will be required to post on their sites the name, mailing address, electronic mailing address, phone number, and facsimile number for the custodian of records, thus making it easier for requestors to communicate with such agencies and obtain government records.

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It is also important to note the Bill’s responsiveness to concerns expressed by the NJ League of Municipalities and Conference of Mayors, e.g.:
• Custodians may now assess a special surcharge to recoup costs for voluminous requests. This surcharge addresses the “commercial data-mining” concern expressed by the League of Municipalities and Conference of Mayors. Courts may issue protective orders limiting the number and scope of requests made by a requestor if the court determines the requests were made for an improper purpose, such as to harass or to substantially interfere with the operation of a public agency or its employees.

Email addresses provided to government bodies for the sole purpose of receiving official public notifications from these bodies are exempted from OPRA.

Amendments to the Open Public Meetings Act
Bill S2511 serves to properly advance N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. (“OPMA”) and its express recognition and furtherance of the public’s right to be present at all meetings of its public bodies, and to fully witness in all phases of the deliberation, policy formation and decision-making. For example: • Subcommittees: The Bill provides that a public body’s subcommittees may be subject to certain OPMA provisions. Since public bodies often create subcommittees, and those subcommittees make critical policy decisions, this provision creates additional transparency not previously provided under the statute. Meeting notice: Public bodies will be required to post notice of public meetings on their Internet site provided there is one. This will provide an additional means for notification and reference not previously provided. Digital devices: Except for communications that are purely administrative or procedural, “no member of a public body, other than the Legislature, during any meeting of that public body to which the public is admitted, shall communicate privately, by means of communication equipment, including electronic mail, instant messaging or similar technologies, including directly or indirectly through staff, with any other member of the public body about any matter on the agenda for that meeting, and no member shall communicate privately with any other person, other than staff or legal counsel, about any matter on the agenda for that meeting by means of communication equipment, including electronic mail, instant messaging or similar technologies.” Recognizing the growing pervasiveness of electronic communications, this will properly foster transparency and the expressly stated “right of the public to be present at all meetings of public bodies and to witness in full detail all phases of the deliberation, policy formation and decision-making of those bodies.”
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We, the undersigned, fully support these bills. The rights they ensure belong to every citizen in New Jersey. These Bills are the public’s Bills. We join in this letter to encourage all Senators to vote YES. Sincerely, Citizens Campaign of New Jersey Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO IFPTE Local 194 Iron Bound Community Corporation Local 32BJ - Service Employees International Union New Jersey Apartment Association New Jersey Environmental Federation New Jersey Foundation for Open Government New Jersey League of Conservation Voters New Jersey Press Association New Jersey Sierra Club New Jersey Working Families Alliance Pinelands Preservation Alliance Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

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