Tag Archives | Loretta Weinberg

Open records law presentation in Ridgewood Nov. 8

Editors note: This event was originally planned for Nov. 2. It has been rescheduled for Nov. 8. Details below. 

Government transparency is the topic of the League of Women Voters of Ridgewood at a presentation by New Jersey Foundation for Open Government from 6 to 7:45 p.m.

 Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Ridgewood Village Hall.

The speakers for “It’s All About Transparency” are Walter Luers of NJ FOG and special guest Sen. Loretta Weinberg. Sen. Weinberg has recently introduced bills to update the Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.

At this event, you can learn about submitting an OPRA request and the process for announcing public meetings

Ridgewood Village Hall is at 131 N. Maple Ave., Ridgewood. The event is free and no registration is required. For more information, email RidgewoodLWV@gmail.com

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Weinberg pulls transparency bills

Legislative alert_158x57Bad news for open government.

Noting there were not enough votes to get the two bills that would update the state’s sunshine laws out of committee, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) took both bills off the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee agenda today.

Weinberg, who said she had spent  “a long two years” working with parties on both sides of the issue to come up with proposed language to update the state Open Records Act (OPRA) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), took the NJ League of Municipalities to task for constantly moving the goal posts during negotiations. “I want to say very publicly they have been bad partners in this endeavor,” she said.

Weinberg thanked her co-sponsor state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville),  the NJ Press Association, the ACLU of NJ, the Municipal Clerks Association, NJ Foundation for Open Government, the League of Women Voters and the editorial staffs of The Star-Ledger and The Record for their support.

The upshot is that the OPRA and OPMA bills are off the table for this year.

Maybe next year?…

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NJ-SPJ supports bills amending state transparency laws

unnamedNJ-SPJ officers Ron Miskoff and Miriam Ascarelli were at a state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing in Trenton yesterday supporting proposed legislation to update and modernize NJ’s Open Public Meetings Act (OMPA) and Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Also supporting the bill were representatives from the NJ Press Association, the ACLU of NJ and the NJ Foundation for Open Government.

The next step will be a committee vote, at a date yet to be announced.

Background

State Senator Loretta Weinberg has been working in earnest with the advocates on all sides of the issue on this for about a year. At the heart of all these discussions is an acknowledgement that OPRA and OMPA need to be updated for the digital age. So the OPRA bill, for example, makes it possible to submit OPRA requests via email, and it requires governmental bodies to post their notices, agendas and meeting minutes on their own websites, and, if they don’t have a site of their own, to post them on a statewide website. The idea here is that this take advantage of technology in such a way that clerks and other records custodians won’t need to spend as much time processing routine requests.

What’s in the bills:

  • Fee shifting in the Open Public Meetings Act:  We see this is a huge positive because it would allow citizens and journalists who win a court case involving a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OMPA) to be reimbursed for their attorney’s fees. Without fee shifting, each party is responsible for paying their respective attorneys’ fees, meaning someone without the money to pay for an attorney would be less likely to sue a governmental agency, even when those rights are plainly violated. Such a mechanism already exists for Open Public Records Act violations, which is why you see many more attorneys taking on OPRA cases than OMPA cases.
Based on yesterday’s testimony from representatives of the NJ School Boards Association and the NJ Association of Counties as well as questions from the committee members, fee shifting is obviously     going to be a  major battleground issue.

 

  • Redactions of public records: This provision would require records custodians, when redacting public documents, to explain the reasoning behind their actions. To illustrate the importance of this provision, Jennifer Borg, NJPA representative and in-house counsel for northjersey.com, showed a copy of the 3 ½ pages of blank pages that a clerk provided in response to an OPRA request that a reporter from The Record made about Hurricane Sandy. When Jennifer sued, suddenly the clerk provided the information, un-redacted. This provision would force records custodians to explain why the documents were redacted in the first place.
Expect this to be another battleground issue.
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