Change in open public records access comes at too high a cost, Munoz says

Change in open public records access comes at too high a cost, Munoz says

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz

TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz stands with government transparency advocates in opposing the majority party’s latest power grab, the dismantling of New Jersey’s open public records act.

The fast-tracked legislation (S2930/A4045), introduced in March by Democrats but pulled from consideration for retooling after near-unanimous public outcry, was amended and released from its respective legislative Appropriations committees this week. The bill is up for a vote Monday.

“We are a government of the people, by the people, for the people. This legislation upends that,” Munoz (R-Union) said. “A representative republic cannot survive under this shroud of secrecy Democrats are building.”

Advocates claim the current law burdens records custodians – especially municipal governments and law enforcement agencies – by taking employees away from day-to-day operations to instead fulfill, or deny, OPRA requests. Critics of the amended bill counter that the changes will make it more difficult for the public to access government records.

For instance, requests for emails will have to identify the specific staffer and the information and time frame those emails were sent, details most requesters do not have access to. Another provision will allow agencies to sue people whose requests substantially impair operations, and even grant judges the power to ban people from seeking public records. Custodians will be permitted to charge more for records and shift the burden of disputing and proving actual production costs to the public. Requesters who end up in court will no longer be awarded attorney’s fees. Those who make anonymous OPRA requests will be forced to waive their right to appeal denials.

However, the ban on data mining, one of the supposed motivating factors for revamping access to public records, was removed in the bill’s amended language.

Munoz, who will miss Monday’s vote due to a prior family commitment, says trust in public institutions is already at an all-time low. This legislation creates a further and widening divide between the government and the people it is supposed to represent and serve.

“I cannot in good conscience support this bill, and neither do 81% of New Jerseyans,” Munoz said. “There was an outcry when the governor and this Democrat-controlled legislature gutted ELEC. There is understandable outrage now over this bill, which solves no alleged problems while creating new ones. We are witnessing an attack on the democratic process piece by piece.”