N.Y. touches up its open government laws

Kathleen Cullinan | Freedom of Information | Feature | August 14, 2008

It's a sunny summer for government in New York, where Gov. David Paterson has signed off on a bundle of updates to the state's open records and meetings laws.

One new provision effective last week awards attorney's fees to people who successfully sue over certain violations of the open meetings law. Another says agencies can't deny public records requests just because they're short-staffed or the request is too big; if an outside worker can prepare the records, and the requester is willing to pay for it, the agency has to arrange for that.

State officials are also now obliged to consider public access when they contract for building and storing records. They have to hand out public records in whatever form they're requested, and extract portions of existing data to create new records, as long as it's reasonable to do so.

According to the state's Committee on Open Government, many of the updates build on long-standing case law. They came about thanks to a bipartisan Legislative effort, according to The (Lower Hudson Valley) Journal News, making records cheaper and more accessible in a computer-based society.

An editorial this week in The Journal News hailed the change: "It will be needed more than ever as, in the months and years ahead, the public and press look ever more closely at public records," the editorial said, "and peek into what should be open public meetings to assess if what their government is doing truly is in the public's interests."

And in other news out of New York, a state senator is backing a bill that would add bloggers to the group of reporters currently covered under the shield law, according to the (Albany) Times Union.