Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senate President Steve Sweeney renewed their call Thursday for a set of reforms to the state’s open government laws, including a measure preventing officials from texting during public meetings and requiring agencies to put more information online.
Weinberg and Sweeney said the bills would upgrade transparency laws that are more than a decade old.
“These bills are only intended to modernize and strengthen the existing open government laws on the books, and public officials at all levels should already be doing their best to fulfill their obligations to be accountable to the taxpaying public,” Weinberg said in a statement.
The senator said she would also seek to reform the Government Records Council, which handles public records complaints. Under Weinberg’s proposal, members of the governor’s cabinet would be booted from the GRC and the senate president and assembly speaker would each appoint a member to the council.
“At its best, the GRC is inept; at its worst, the GRC is obstructionist, employing the same closed-door tactics that erode people’s faith in government,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg said some local and county governments have objected to the reforms. The League of Municipalities has raised concerns over costs. Local officials have also argued they already follow some elements of Weinberg's bill.
Other provisions include requiring meeting minutes to be made public within 45 days and bring independent and quasi-government agencies under public meetings laws. The bill would also require agencies to explain reasons for blacking out information in public records requests and allow requests to be made without the official form.
Groups including the New Jersey Press Association and New Jersey ACLU back the proposed changes.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, however, said the legislators were pushing a double-standard.
"...It's always amusing that the Legislature preaches transparency while it exempts itself from things like financial and conflicts of interest disclosure. And even OPRA,” Christie Press Secretary Michael Drewniak told the Philadelphia Inquirer.