March 15, 2018

Assembly Observes Sunshine Week with Passage of Bills to Expand State's Freedom of Information Laws

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governmental Operations Committee Chair Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes today announced the Assembly marked the nationwide observance of Sunshine Week with the approval of legislation to strengthen the state's Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL) in order to enhance openness and accountability in government.

"With the passage of these FOIL bills, my Assembly colleagues and I build on our house's long-standing commitment to making government more transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens," said Speaker Heastie. "These meaningful changes found in our legislation will not only improve the public's access to records and their understanding of the work government does, but it also will help to enhance public participation, which is so very important to the effectiveness of our government."

"The Assembly's Sunshine legislation enhances the state's FOIL Laws by removing barriers that impede access to government information, which undermines both the public's right to know, and also just as concerning, public confidence in government," said Peoples-Stokes. "Our legislation seeks to strengthen the public's voice through improved public access to government records."

On this annual observance of Sunshine Week, March 11th to the 17th, the Assembly passed several measures to enhance the public's access to official records, including bills that address concerns raised about the broad usage of copy rights, investigations by law enforcement or litigation in court as grounds for withholding information from the public.

One of the bills (A.2401,Galef) would establish that information denied to the public because of a potential violation of a copyright is only permissible when the records requested under FOIL involve artistic creation, scientific or academic research and other proprietary information.

For FOIL requests involving criminal actions, the Assembly's Sunshine Legislation includes a bill (A.3463, Englebright) to clarify that records cannot be withheld from the public solely because they involve an investigation or criminal proceedings. It also ensures that when the law enforcement exemption is used to deny a FOIL request, out of concern that the disclosure will interfere with a judicial proceeding, only the presiding judge can determine whether to uphold the exemption or release such information.

Other Assembly enhancements to the state's FOIL Laws include a directive to all state agencies to make available on agency websites FOIL application forms so the public can more conveniently make requests for official records online (A.2131, Peoples-Stokes), and a clarification that while the name of a state pension retiree can be publicly disclosed, the name of the retiree's beneficiary is to be protected (A.3306, Englebright).

Earlier in the year, the Assembly also approved the Democracy Protection Act (A.9930, Zebrowski), which requires the identity of political action committees to be disclosed for certain political communication expenditures.