Assemblyman Danielsen has introduced A-5614, which makes various changes to the Government Records Council (GRC), including its composition, challenges to access denial, prevailing attorney’s fees, advisory opinions, and GRC decisions.
The legislation expands the GRC from five members to nine. The public members of the GRC increases from three to seven and one of the public members must be a municipal clerk. Three of the public members will be appointed by the Governor, including the municipal clerk, two of the public members will be appointed by the Senate President and the remaining two by the Assembly Speaker. The bill also removes the prohibition that a public member cannot hold any other State or local elected or appointed office or employment while serving on the GRC.
Under current law, the GRC is authorized to issue an advisory opinion as to whether a particular type of record is a government record accessible to the public, but only on its own initiative. Amendments put forward in A-5614, would permit the GRC to issue advisory opinions upon the request of records custodians. In addition, A-5416 expands the ability of the GRC to issue advisory opinions to include matters related to the manner and extent of compliance by a custodian for requests of particular types or categories of government records.
The legislation also removes current statutory language that GRC decisions do not have value as precedent for any case initiated in Superior Court. This change creates administrative deference to the GRC, requiring courts reviewing administrative decisions to defer to the expertise of the GRC.
In regard to challenges to a denial of access, the legislation removes the option for complaints to be filed in Superior Court. All denial of access complaints would be filed with the GRC. The legislation also removes the automatic granting of prevailing attorney’s fees. If prevailing attorney’s fees are granted, they will be calculated on the hourly rate of the municipal attorney in effect at the time of calculation.
Finally, the legislation appropriates $250,000 to the GRC to effectuate its duties and responsibilities for the receipt and processing of complaints.
A-5614 would take effect on the first day of the fourth month following enactment.
There is no Senate companion at this time. A-5614 awaits consideration by the Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee.
Contact: Lori Buckelew, Deputy Executive Director & Director of Government Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481, x112.