Senate Twists the Knife into Transparency

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton

The state Senate today passed S-2930, which throws the critical public interest of government transparency onto the burning altar of establishment power.

The vote was 21-10.

No one debated the highly controversial measure.

Said NJ Citizen Action’s Executive Director, Dena Mottola Jaborska:

“The OPRA bill and how it was advanced, is what’s wrong with our democracy. It will chill requests by media, advocates, and community activists, shielding the actions and decisions of local officials from public view.”

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee passed the bill after hearing strong objections from various watchdog groups, activists, and other entities.

Objecting to fee shifting, inequitable pay structures that punish media outlets, and other public interest obstacles snuck into S-2930, transparency activists today tried to prevail on the state Senate Budget Committee to kill the bill.

Attorney C.J. Griffin, partner and director of the Stein Public Interest Center, zeroed in on the bill’s delicate use of language to shift the financial burden – and the burden of proof – for an OPRA request onto the public. “This flips the burden, saying we have to go to court and somehow convince the judge it’s unreasonable when we don’t have access to the information,” said Griffin. “It’s a way to deny access without being honest and saying, ‘we’re denying access’.” The bill provides government with ammunition to bog down in court – and legal costs – an individual or entity seeking public records.

Backers of the bill tried to describe it as a balancing act of transparency and efficiency: protections for public access, and protections for clerks who are sometimes overloaded with OPRA requests or harassed by opportunists.

But New Jersey Press Association Attorney Tom Cafferty told the committee, “Despite the amendments, the bill remains deeply flawed. …Generally, the arc in this state has been toward transparency. If this bill passes that arc will be reversed.”

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2 responses to “Senate Twists the Knife into Transparency”

  1. Corruption, extortion and bribery in New Jersey political class has been given a new lease on life with the passage of this anti-transparent law. No one debated the law, showing that everyone involved wants to cover up their malfeasance in office. Taxpayers beware. Your taxes will now skyrocket and you will have no way to find out what they’re being used for. Glad I left the state long ago.

  2. As the slim vote margin reduces again , the public spotlight on the darkness of the questionable controversial SAD DAY of BAD GOVERNMENT moves to focus on the public’s hope for a strong VETO by Governor Murphy. The public’s RIGHT TO KNOW can be reaffirmed and thus strengthened by a strong VETO. As the prime sponsor/author of THE OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS ACT, I join my colleague Senator Weinberg in bipartisan outcry.

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