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Bill to revise outdated records law stalls in legislature

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Freedom of Information         Jun 20, 2001    

Bill to revise outdated records law stalls in legislature

  • Although both houses of the New Jersey legislature have passed a long-awaited revision of the state’s open records law, the bill is on hold.

The state assembly has delayed action on a sweeping rewrite of the state’s antiquated open records law, widely regarded as one of the weakest right-to-know statutes in the country.

The delay endangers passage of the bill, which would replace a 38-year-old law that contains no language on electronic records or e-mail messages and holds only records “required by law” be made available to the public. Most records are not covered by the law although the state does also recognize a common law right to some records.

Each house has passed a version of A-1309. However, Assembly Speaker Jack Collins (R-Salem), sent the senate version back to committee rather than move the bill to the floor for a final vote.

John O’Brien, executive director of the New Jersey Press Association, said it was unlikely the bill would be considered again before lawmakers adjourn for the summer. With an election looming, any action likely would be put off until a post-election lame-duck session in November.

“It’s just pure politics that’s going on,” O’Brien said. “We just got screwed by the speaker.”

The proposal is a compromise between open government advocates and victims rights groups concerned about protecting privacy. It would establish a presumption in New Jersey that all records would be available for inspection unless specifically exempted by law. Currently, most records — including salary information, government reports, and employment contracts — are not made available to the public.

The bill would extend coverage to electronic records and e-mail messages, which are not covered by current law. It also would require agencies to provide some documents — including salaries, budgets, and contracts — immediately upon request.

The bill includes provisions to guard the privacy of crime victims, limiting disclosure of social security numbers, unlisted phone numbers, and medical records.

(A-1309) CM


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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