Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Open-Government Bills Clear Senate Panel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Open-Government Bills Clear Senate Panel

Article excerpt

Legislation that would make it easier for New Jerseyans to obtain public records and make government meetings more open cleared a Senate panel Monday.

Two separate measures sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, were passed along party lines, with Republicans saying there were too many late amendments made to allow them to thoroughly review the legislation.

One bill would improve New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, commonly referred to as OPRA. The other would upgrade the state's Open Public Meetings Act, commonly referred to as the "Sunshine Law."

The bills upgrade laws that were written before the broad usage of social media, text messaging and other technology that has significantly changed the way governments maintain records and also how public officials communicate with each other and their constituents.

One change would prohibit public officials from speaking with each other using handheld electronic devices during a public meeting in lieu of an open discussion before constituents.

Weinberg said the two pieces of legislation "reach the right balance" between providing access to citizens while also respecting the concerns of governments that are increasingly being asked to stretch their existing resources.

"These bills are not Republican or Democrat bills," Weinberg said. "They are not liberal or conservative bills."

"They are all about how the people who send us to the Legislature, to our local councils, to our county boards of freeholders, our county executive offices, have access to the information that they need in order to judge the work we do," she said.

Both bills cleared the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, with three votes from Democrats and abstentions from the two Republican members. Companion bills introduced in the Assembly have yet to be heard. Similar bills requiring this type of public access to records have failed to clear the Legislature in recent years. …

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