Following the Hoboken City Council’s lead, their counterparts in Jersey City will vote on a non-binding resolution opposing a state bill that would weaken the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
” … NJ Assembly Bills A5613, A5614, A5615, and A5616 propose amendments to OPRA that raise significant concerns about potential restrictions, limitations, or attempts to weaken the law, jeopardizing the public’s right to access government records, hindering transparency, and undermining democratic principles,” the local legislation says.
“Whereas, these bills, if enacted, could erode the public’s ability to hold government officials accountable, impede investigative journalism, and hinder the free flow of information necessary for informed decision-making … it is essential for the City of Jersey City to express its opposition to these bills and advocate for the protection and strengthening of OPRA to safeguard the public’s right to access government records[.]”
The local legislation is being sponsored by Council President Joyce Watterman, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore.
“Government transparency is a critical cornerstone of our democracy. It is essential that residents can continue to turn to their government and utilize OPRA without any form of limitations or restrictions,” Watterman said in a statement.
“OPRA helps keep government accountable to the public—and any attempt to curtail it should be rejected. The law was designed to expand public access to public records. We should be making it easier for the public to know what’s going on at all levels of our government, not harder,” added Solomon.
Assemblyman Joe Danielson (D-17) is sponsoring the aforementioned bills, which propose allowing government agencies to extend their response time from seven business days to 20 for repeat requesters, limiting commercial requestors to two records requests a month, and barring anyone who “substantially disrupted the operations” from making records requests for up to a year – among other changes.
“ … I urge the State Legislature to protect and strengthen the Open Public Records Act to ensure that the public’s right to access government records is upheld, while simultaneously working on necessary updates to address emerging challenges surrounding OPRA,” stated Saleh.
“OPRA is a critical tool to ensure governments in NJ are open and accountable to residents. Restricting one of the most important of accountability measures we have is a step in the wrong direction,” expressed Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise.
The Hoboken City Council approved essentially the same non-binding resolution last month by a tally of 6-0(3), with Councilman Phil Cohen, Jim Doyle, and Joe Quintero abstaining.
That measure was sponsored by 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino.
For the moment, the bill has not moved in Trenton, which was expected given a number of tightly contested legislative races in the state in the November 7th general election.
The Jersey City Council will convene for a regular session on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and the meeting will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.