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Sponsor of bill to revamp public records law does not commit to mid-April vote

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Sponsor of bill to revamp public records law does not commit to mid-April vote

Apr 02, 2024 | 4:21 pm ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Sponsor of bill to revamp public records law does not commit to mid-April vote
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Sen. Paul Sarlo said there is no agreement to vote on changes to the Open Public Records Act this month. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Sen. Paul Sarlo said there is no guarantee a bill to revamp the Open Public Records Act will return for votes before both chambers on April 15, adding lawmakers are still drafting amendments after the initial bill met with broad opposition.

“There is no commitment at this point in time,” Sarlo (D-Bergen), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor, told reporters Tuesday. “We’re still working with all the advocacy groups on plenty of amendments. Plenty of amendments are being bantered back and forth.”

April 15 is the next time the Senate and Assembly are scheduled to have voting sessions. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) told reporters two weeks ago that the bill may be amended and come before the Legislature for a final vote in mid-April, and Sarlo said an an interview last month that if the bill wasn’t done by the first week of April, “we’ll probably table it for another 20 years.”

The OPRA bill appeared to be on a fast track to passage last month before it was pulled from consideration by the Assembly’s appropriations committee. The delay came after advocates, press, government watchdogs, and others warned it would make government less transparent and costlier.

Among other things, the bill would have removed a fee-shifting mandate that has become the law’s main enforcement mechanism, narrowed the number of records considered public under state law, and allowed records custodians to reject out of hand requests they deem harassing.

Supporters of the bill say changes to the law are necessary to help records custodians deal with an onslaught of requests for documents.

Scutari has previously declined to commit to making the bill’s amendments public before the measure comes to a vote, but on Tuesday Sarlo said the public would have a chance to read them.

“I have made it clear as the sponsor: If it is going to go into committee, if it’s going to go onto the floor on Monday, I made it clear I would like to see all those amendments out in the public domain a week earlier,” Sarlo said.

The senator declined to say how the amendments might affect the fee-shifting mandate, though he said legislative staff members in both chambers are examining the issue.

He did detail a single amendment that would guarantee the proposed OPRA revamp does not curtail labor unions’ access to documents related to collective bargaining.

“They have every right for full access to the information they need to have a fair and open process in their collective bargaining, that the employer, the agencies cannot hold anything back in the process,” Sarlo said. “We’re going to make that really, really, clear.”