This Tuesday, June 23, an important committee meeting will take place in Trenton, one that could greatly affect open government in New Jersey. We are urging you to write to the legislators in your district and have created a format that we hope will make this relatively quick and easy.
The NJ Society of Professional Journalists rarely gets involved in politics. When it comes to open government, however, it is our obligation to be heard. To summarize the issue, two bills, S781 and S782, are being debated in the senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. They would strengthen the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by closing loopholes and addressing the realities of today’s technology.
However, we are concerned about the introduction of potential amendments at Tuesday’s committee meeting that could substantially weaken these bills. The worrisome amendments seem to be coming from the League of Municipalities and other organizations that want to maintain the status quo.
Fortunately, we are not in this fight alone. The ACLU, the NJ Press Association, the NJ Foundation for Open Government and others also see the danger. But we need your help.
If you’re interested in attending Tuesday’s session of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, the legislators are meeting at 10 a.m. in Committee Room 4 on the first floor of the State House Annex in Trenton. It’s unlikely the senators will be taking testimony, but your presence alone can be very powerful.
If you want to know more, you will find some helpful links at the end of this post.
About that letter. Here’s what we’d like you to do:
- Cut & paste the text we have prepared below. You will see that it only says that you are watching and you care, nothing more. If you wish to customize the text, great. We welcome that.
Dear _____ ,
My name is (name), and I am a journalist who lives in your district in (town).
The NJ Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) is alerting us to attempts to water-down bills S781 and S782, having to do with open public records and open meetings. I hope that you will support these bills in their strongest possible forms. I will be looking at updates from NJ-SPJ as these bills progress through hearings; your vote on these issues is very important to me.
I am a journalist because I believe that an informed public is essential to our democracy. I see very few instances where municipalities and other authorities should conduct business in the shadows. I cannot do my job if government openness is compromised. I hope that you share these concerns.
- Email it to your two assembly people and your state senator.
- How do you get their email addresses? It is a two-step process. First, find your district at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp Just click on your town. The legislature’s website doesn’t give you the true email addresses of your legislators, just a limited “in-house” version. To get the real addresses, simply note your district and get the addresses at http://www.njcommunityresources.info/njlegislators.html. It is organized by district, although you can also search by name.
- Please cc your email to us, using firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To read our post on the June 8 state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on the proposed OPRA and OPMA changes, click here.
- To read a March 2015 interview with Jennifer Borg, general counsel and vice president of North Jersey Media Group, about the ways OPRA and OPMA could be improved, click here. Borg is an expert in Constitutional law and open government matters.
- To get copies of the bills as they stand now, click here for OPRA and here for OPMA.
- To read The Record’s editorial on the bills, click here.
- To read about a June 11 appellate division decision denying a request by the North Jersey Media Group for records relating to a police shooting in Bergen County, click here. The decision is important because it has implications for reporters seeking police records under OPRA. You can read an editorial on the issue here.
- To read the NJ Foundation for Open Government’s primer on how to use OPRA, click here.