New Bills Pose Critical Threat to OPRAmachine and Public Transparency

New Bills Pose Critical Threat to OPRAmachine and Public Transparency

In a move that could significantly alter the landscape of public access and transparency in New Jersey, a proposed bill, S-2390 is threatening to dismantle the mechanisms that allow citizens to hold their government accountable - during Sunshine Week, no less.

Among its various concerning aspects, one provision stands out for its potential to fundamentally disrupt how we interact with our government: the mandate for requesters to use only the official forms provided by agencies for filing Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests. This isn't just a procedural change; it's a direct assault on platforms like OPRAmachine and, more broadly, on every New Jerseyan's right to easily access public information.

OPRAmachine's Future At Stake

If passed, this bill will prevent OPRAmachine, as it exists today, from operating statewide. We need your help to stay in operation. Take action today.

OPRAmachine has revolutionized the way New Jersey residents engage with their government, streamlining the OPRA request process and ensuring greater government transparency. By compelling the use of agency-specific forms, this bill could render OPRAmachine's innovative platform obsolete, forcing residents back into the bureaucratic labyrinth of individualized request procedures. This move is antithetical to the principles of accessibility and transparency that OPRAmachine, and indeed the OPRA law itself, were designed to uphold.

Unnecessary Hurdles in the Path to Information

The introduction of a mandatory form for OPRA requests is a regressive step that needlessly complicates the process of obtaining public records. It represents a departure from the ideals of simplicity and accessibility in public information requests, erecting barriers where there should be open doors. This provision does not serve the public interest; rather, it shields government operations from the scrutiny of the very people it serves. And it will destroy OPRAmachine as it exists today.

A Future Where Less is Known

Should this bill pass, the consequences for public knowledge and government accountability in New Jersey could be dire. A less informed populace is the inevitable outcome of a system that prioritizes bureaucratic convenience over public access. The operations and activities of government should be transparent and accessible to all, not hidden behind a veil of procedural red tape.

Among the changes this bill will make (courtesy of CJ Griffin, Esq.):

• Guts fee-shifting by making it discretionary, not mandatory (making it difficult to sue!)
• Exempts email logs and call logs
• Makes it MUCH harder to request emails b/c a
"specific subject matter" and "discrete and limited time period" must be provided, and the requestor must identify the specific person (not a title, etc) whose email must be searched
• Says they can deny any request if the agency thinks it could lead to "harassment"
• Exempts metadata
• Creates a "Task Force" to study police records, and stacks it with law enforcement and government folks
• Exempts email addresses, home addresses, dog license info, etc
• Mandates use of the OPRA request form
• Says the clock doesn't start ticking until the custodian "receives" the request--So, no access
during vacations!
• They don't have to give you the document in the format you want anymore
• You cannot request a record if it relates to current litigation against the public agency or if it is duplicative of a discovery request. This affects so many lawyers doing their work for clients!
• They can take 14 days if they have to review it for Daniel's Law compliance.
• Removes the incentive to comply with OPRA because it revokes personal liability for willful violations of the statute. Instead, the agency/ taxpayers will pay the fine.
• Significantly limits "commercial" requests

The Call to Action: Protect Our Right to Know

This is a critical moment for transparency in New Jersey. As concerned citizens, we must rally against this bill and advocate for the preservation of accessible public records. The fight for transparency is a fight for the very essence of democracy, and it requires the engagement and activism of us all.

How You Can Make a Difference

Call and email the committee members considering this bill.

Contact your legislator and tell them to vote NO