Governor signs long-fought-for bill into law for a more transparent NJ
NEWARK — In an important victory for open government, Governor Chris Christie today signed into law a bill lowering fees charged by state and local government for copies of public records, championed by Assemblyman Joseph Cryan and Senator Loretta Weinberg and backed the ACLU-NJ and open government advocates across the state.
"This marks the end of a barrier that for far too long kept the public from having access to government," said ACLU-NJ Open Governance Project Attorney Bobby Conner. "This new law brings a new day for transparency in New Jersey. Now public records will be more available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. It will help New Jersey's citizens to better hold their officials accountable."
The law limits what government agencies can charge for copies of public records to five cents per page for letter-size copies and seven cents per page for legal-size copies, based on actual costs of copying. Previously, New Jersey's Open Public Records Act had allowed state and local government to charge 75 cents per page, often prohibitive for ordinary citizens holding their officials accountable. In February, however, the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court ruled that as of July 1, no agency could charge citizens more than the actual costs of copying records.
The ACLU-NJ, which contributed to the drafting of the legislation, has advocated for more reasonable copying fees for more than a decade. Expanding on the fundamental ACLU-NJ mission to bring greater transparency to the state, the organization last year formed the Open Governance Project, thanks to a generous grant from Rutgers School of Law-Newark.
The Open Governance Project is currently working with legislators to draft more comprehensive updates to OPRA and the Sunshine Law (Open Public Meetings Act), which hasn't been updated since first passing in 1975 and needs revisions that address electronic communications.
"We're gratified that a very long battle in the fight for accountability has secured greater access for the public," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "There's still a long way to go before accountability weaves its way into all levels of New Jersey's government, but this is a fundamental step. The ACLU-NJ will remain a watchdog against government secrecy to let the public keep watch over their government."
The Open Governance Project, which claims the only pro bono attorney in New Jersey working exclusively on transparency issues, has won other recent victories to secure more openness among New Jersey's officials, which can be found online.