New Jersey looks at changes to open meetings, records

New Jersey is looking at two bills that would reform exiting open meetings and open records laws in the state. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) introduced the bills which are designed to broaden access to government records and increase transparency. The bills follow a year of harsh criticism over the state officials love/hate relationship with open access.

The bills will allow anyone to make an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. Previously OPRA request were limited to state residents only. The bill also allows for requests to be made through means other than the existing OPRA form, provided that the request contains the required information and indicates that it is an official OPRA request. Finally, the bills expand OPRA responsibilities to auxiliary governmental organizations like the League of Municipalities. The state would also be allowed to email records, cutting the administrative costs of responding to requests.

Weinberg wants to bring OPRA into the digital age in order to make the state more responsive to modern modes of information transfer.

“In this day and age, if I submit an OPRA request on a cocktail napkin, so long as it contains the necessary information, that should be enough,” Weinberg said in a local press account. “The guarantee of transparency under OPRA shouldn’t stop at our borders, nor should it be dependent on pro forma mechanics.”

New Jersey officials have been sending mixed signals on transparency over the last few years. Governor Chris Christie ran on promises of increased state transparency but has done little to support that. As CivSource reported previously, the state comptroller released a report noting that less than 10% of state governmental entities were transparent. At the end of 2011, state lawmakers went further and pulled law enforcement payroll information off the Attorney General’s website.