Boos and Jeers Greet Passage of OPRA ‘Reform’ Bill

TRENTON – There are nuances involved.

Like this OPRA-reform bill is better than the original.

Also, relief is needed from those who use the Open Public Records Act for profit.

That may be true, but the bottom line is not obscured.

State lawmakers want to make it harder for the public to keep track of what they – and their government colleagues – are doing. Those who deny that are dealing in nonsense.

There are many troubling parts of this so-called reform bill, but one that sticks out is a line that says a public agency may deny disclosing personal information if it “has reason to believe ” that disclosure of such information may result in harassment.

Well, just about any information can lead to someone being “harassed.” This is a massive loophole.

Now, if an agency is egregious in denying a request, it may lose in the end. But that’s a problem, not a solution.

People looking for basic information about government should not be forced to appeal a decision, or to file suit to get it.

The timeliness of it all takes a blow by a provision that doubles the time public bodies have to comply with a request from seven to 14 days.
Gee, no need to rush. It’s only taxpayers making the request.

Republicans, normally, enjoy – if that’s the right word – such excesses by the Democrats, because, at the very least, they can have some fun condemning them.

Not with this one.

Sadly, a co-sponsor in the Senate was the Republican leader, Anthony M. Bucco. In the Assembly, a co-sponsor was GOP Assemblyman Victoria Flynn.

Bucco was not in the chamber on Monday, but the bill passed 21-10. Besides three absent members, six senators “courageously” did not vote.

Broadly speaking, one has to assume lawmakers are doing this because they can.

Despite pious proclamations about the “public’s business” or “service,” too many politicians are more comfortable operating behind the curtain.

That is human nature, one supposes.

But one should not forget how newspaper coverage of government on all levels has shrunk considerably in just the last 10 years or so.

This is no reflection on today’s reporters. But it is an indictment on corporate newspaper ownership – an ownership that cuts the staff and seems to value identifying the best chocolate donut in town over robust coverage of government.

One never knows, but if local press coverage was like it was 20 years ago, which was about the time OPRA was originally passed, today’s vote may not have happened.

That was then.

Now we have to live in 2024.

What was galling in the Senate is that there was no debate on the bill. Even those voting “no” said nothing. Strange and sad.

There was debate, at least, in the Assembly, where Joe Danielsen said the bill was an improvement. He spoke at length about those who abuse the system.

That sounds reasonable, but much of what he said covered evidence of abuse. He was more or less silent on the need of the general public to find out what government is doing.

After Danielson finished, Republican Brian Bergen wanted to ask him a question.

Danielson said no.

“Is he scared,” Bergen shot back.

Snottiness aside. Bergen was right on when he said people often file OPRA requests when they’re denied information at public meetings.

Flynn took to the floor and complained about fees public agencies have had to pay because of OPRA. Well, if those agencies followed the law, perhaps there would have been no fees.

No matter. The bill passed 44-25.

And like the Senate vote earlier in the day, there were boos and jeers from the gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 responses to “Boos and Jeers Greet Passage of OPRA ‘Reform’ Bill”

  1. As the author/prime sponsor of THE OPRA,, today I join Senator Weinberg in opposition to the legislative END to the public’s RIGHT TO KNOW – as the public for over 20 years has known and exercised ! The bare majorities in both houses show today truly questionable controversial votes that the constituents would solidly reject. This is another SAD DAY of BAD GOVERNMENT! Hopefully the Governor will save OPRA with a strong VETO!

  2. To all the idiots that voted for this…remember Florio in 1991, history can repeat itself 🤮

  3. OPRA requests would not be a burden if local governments design their administrative systems to make information available as a matter of policy. Local governing body, planning, zoning, authority and school board information needs to be available promptly and completely before and after meetings. Residents should not feel unwelcome at government meetings because elected or appointed officials don’t want to share what they are doing. If government websites were maintained in a timely fashion with complete information, OPRA requests would fall. Local government should not operate in secret.

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