SENATE BUDGET AND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE

 

STATEMENT TO

 

SENATE, No. 1046

 

with committee amendments

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

 

DATED:  JUNE 29, 2017

 

      The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee reports without recommendation Senate Bill No. 1046, with committee amendments.         As amended, this bill revises the open public records act (OPRA).  The bill formally names OPRA as the “Martin O’Shea Open Public Records Act” in honor of Martin O’Shea, a tireless advocate for broad public access to government records. The bill expands and clarifies various definitions and makes changes to the duties of record custodians and the Government Records Council. It also revises the composition of the Government Records Council and changes the council from being in the Department of Community Affairs to being in, but not of, the Department of Community Affairs.  It modifies the mediation process making the Office of Dispute Settlement in the Office of the Public Defender available to mediate disputes, changes the penalty provisions, and modifies access to the courts.  It specifies that the fines imposed pursuant to OPRA cannot be paid out of public funds.  The bill changes the membership of the Government Records Council to seven members.

      In addition, the bill requires the State to create a public finance website and establish the New Jersey Local Public Finance Internet Website Development Program to provide advice and technical assistance to units of local government that elect to create a searchable local public finance Internet website. 

 

COMMITTEE AMENDMENTS:

      The amendments:

      -- reinsert a provision stating that the State’s  public policy is that government records are to be readily accessible by its residents;

      -- permit a volunteer fire company or department to enter into a contract with the governing body of its municipality to designate the municipal clerk as its government records custodian;

      -- exempt from the open public records act the information of private, and not public, alarm systems and surveillance cameras;

      -- provide that material used and relied upon during the consultative process prior to the award of any contract is advisory, consultative or deliberative material, and, thus, not included in the definition of a government record;

      -- remove from the exemptions to the open public records act information that would disclose personal identifying information of persons under the age of 18 years with certain exceptions;

      -- add to the definition of “government record” certain records for vehicles owned by public entities other than the State;

      -- include within the definition of “public employee” interns and volunteer employees;

      -- clarify that a custodian may only redact information the custodian believes is subject to exemption by deleting or obscuring that information only and may not alter the space where that information previously existed;

      -- provide that if a public agency maintains a record in a format or medium that can be inspected without charge to a requestor, it is to inform the requestor of a time and place the record will be available for inspection, and that the requestor may instead purchase copies from the public agency if the requestor chooses;

      -- replace the special service charge with a special administrative charge as it pertains to requests for commercial purposes;

      -- eliminate the provision allowing a custodian in a municipality to direct another municipal officer or employee with custody of a record to act on the custodian’s behalf;

      -- eliminate the provision permitting a person to provide an address of record in addition to the person’s home address for disclosure purposes’

      -- change the composition of the Government Records Council;

      -- specify that a verified petition must be filed with the Superior Court alleging that a requestor has sought records for the sole purpose to harass a public agency in order for the court to issue a protective order or issue other appropriate relief; and

      -- make certain other technical changes.

 

FISCAL IMPACT:

      The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) notes that the fiscal impact of this bill on State and local government entities is indeterminate because requests for government records are varied and the number of requests and types of documents requested are unknown and will vary annually.  Some of the local entities may be able to absorb any additional associated administrative costs within existing budgets and staffing levels.  The bill’s principal fiscal impact is the creation of the New Jersey Local Public Finance Internet Website Development Program, and the initial appropriation not to exceed $100,000 to fund that program.  The Appellate Division of the Superior Court may be impacted by the provisions allowing “denial of access” actions to be filed if decisions on records requests are not rendered within statutory time limits.  Costs to the courts are indeterminate because it is not known how many actions may be filed.  The impact with regard to the Office of Dispute Settlement is also unknown.  The OLS notes that the State already provides a public finance website for State fiscal activity that substantially conforms to the bill’s requirements.