State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg was presented with the Lift Award by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government this Saturday in recognition of her efforts to fight for more government openness and transparency.
“Good Government is transparent government,” Weinberg said of the importance of more openness in New Jersey government at all levels.
Weinberg is the author of two bills that would revise the state’s open government laws, the Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. The state Legislature is expected to vote on the bills before the end of the year.
Senate bill 1451, amending the Open Public Meetings Act (commonly known as the Sunshine Law), was first passed 40 years ago. Weinberg’s bill would make numerous changes to the law, including: requiring that independent authorities such as sewerage commissions and quasi-public agencies hold open meetings; mandating that agendas include brief descriptions of items that include the parties to and costs of contracts; banning text messaging, emails and other communications between officials during meetings; and narrowing the reasons for which public bodies can go into closed session and exclude the public.
The other bill, S1452, would makes changes to the Open Public Records Act, expanding access to public records and clarifying what records are public and how they can be obtained. The law allows for citizens who file complaints against public agencies with the state’s Government Records Council to file lawsuits in Superior Court if the Government Records Council does not handle the case in a reasonable time period. Currently it is taking the Government Records Council an average of 12 to 18 months to issue decisions on complaints.
More than 50 people from across the state attended the day-long workshop on Open Public Records and the Sunshine Law that was hosted by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. Attendees included elected officials, clerks and residents.