February 6, 2013
Re: URGENT SENATE VOTING ON OPRA & OPMA LEGISLATION
S-2511 & S-2512
Tomorrow the Senate will be considering the most recent amendments to the Open Public Meeting Act (S-2511) and Open Public Records Act (S-2512). (For more information on the bills please see our January 22, 2013 Dear Mayor Letter.)
While we appreciate Senator Weinberg’s efforts to address our concerns, the League must continue to oppose the most recent amendments to the Open Public Meeting Act (S-2511) and Open Public Records Act (S-2512). The changes proposed will not only be a cost driver for local and State government but make government less effective.
The proposed amendments would require that the public body allow each individual to speak for a minimum of three minutes, at the start of the public meeting, but removes the ability of the public body to limit the overall length of the public comment period. This new requirement could disrupt public meetings, lead to filibustering and prevent the governing body from conducting business.
We must also continue to object to requiring subcommittees to be subject to the Open Public Meetings Act. The purpose of subcommittees is to make recommendations to the governing body for the governing body to take action. Subcommittees do not expend public funds nor make binding decisions. That power remains with the governing body. S-2511 would require public notice of subcommittees, if the governing body determines that the meeting is open to the public, and the subcommittee to submit a least one written report to the governing body. The report must detail the number of meetings, names of members of the committee and a concise statement of the matters discussed. These new requirements for subcommittees meetings would, among other things, necessitate additional administrative support for all subcommittees as well as increased legal advertising cost.
We also strongly believe that while government records should be readily accessible and transparent there must be an appropriate balance between the need for openness and transparency in government and citizens’ reasonable expectation of privacy. We continue to strongly recommend that consideration be given to the recommendations outlined in the December 2004 Privacy Study Commission Report available at http://www.state.nj.us/privacy/prc_final_report_v21.pdf.
Finally, in the interest of transparency and openness, we urge the Legislature to remove the various exceptions in the Open Public Meetings Act and Open Public Records Act that apply to the Legislature. The rules that the legislation makes applicable to other governmental bodies should apply equally to all governmental levels and officials.
Please ask your Senator to oppose S-2511 and S-2512.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.