Controversial State Bill Goes to Governor

Controversial State Bill Goes to Governor

( – On May 13, lawmakers passed an overhaul of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, received the controversial legislation for his signature or veto, which he had said very little about in public.

If the bill becomes law, it will be the first significant change to OPRA since it became law in 2002. Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the press, claim the bill will cancel how the public is able to access information regarding the state’s government.

The creation of OPRA aimed to increase public access to the state’s governmental records. Moreover, it established the appeals process in the event of a denial of the information request. The 2002 law mandates that New Jersey citizens can inspect and copy records. There are specific exceptions when the denial protects the interests of the public.

The bill, NJ S2930 (24R), passed in the Assembly by 42–28 and in the Senate by 21–10. Nick Scutari, the senate president, stated that they discussed the merits and criticisms of the bill and included some amendments to address issues that came up. He said that there will always be those who will never agree if they tweak the bill’s language.

In the Assembly, their debate was more intense as Democrat Joe Danielsen, the house’s top sponsor, scolded detractors by stating that many abuse OPRA when technical errors happen. They sue the state, then profit by offering a cash settlement instead of continuing with the lawsuit. He claimed that the bill would always protect the government’s transparency and the rights of citizens to have access to records, but it also protects taxpayers from funding dishonest lawsuits.

Those who support the bill argued that OPRA required updating to deal with businesses’ requests and to limit requests that intend to disrupt government processes.

According to attorney CJ Griffin, who often represents record seekers, the bill represents more corruption and secrecy from the government.

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