March 18, 2015

Assembly Approves Sunshine Week Legislative Package

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governmental Operations Committee Chair Crystal Peoples-Stokes today announced the passage of the Assembly's Sunshine Week legislative package to increase government transparency and enhance the state's Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL).

"As part of the Assembly's annual observance of Sunshine Week and in keeping with our record of being at the forefront of legislation to improve openness in government, today we also announce an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo on ethics reform, which includes greater disclosure requirement for legislators. These reforms will establish a higher level of transparency to guide the conduct of individuals who commit themselves to public service," said Speaker Heastie. "The greater the public's understanding is of its government, the more confident they will be to take a more participatory role and help shape government policies that improve their lives and their communities."

"With this legislative package, the Assembly continues its long-standing commitment to government openness and transparency, which are critical to the public's ability to participate in the democratic process and ensure that our government is effective, responsive and accountable," said Peoples-Stokes.

Included in the legislation approved by the Assembly is a key measure (A.114, Buchwald) to increase the public's access to government records. The bill would expedite the FOIL appeals process by limiting to 30 days the time an agency would have to appeal a court judgment to disclose the information requested. Currently, agencies can file an appeal and have up to nine months to perfect the appeal, a delay that impedes timely access to government documents.

Also among the Assembly's Sunshine Week legislative package are bills that would:

The Assembly also addresses efforts to categorically deny FOIL requests by requiring a specific justification for denial of access to records under FOIL. The bill (A.4468, Englebright) also would require that records held by law enforcement agencies or that are related to ongoing litigation are accessible so long as their disclosure does not interfere with an investigation or a proceeding and the release of the records has been approved by the presiding judge.

To increase public awareness of the actions of the state and local authorities, an Assembly bill (A.4788, Quart) would require the authorities to comply with the open meetings law and to webcast and archive, on their respective websites, the authority's deliberations.

The Assembly also enhances the public's ability to request records from a state agency through the Internet. This measure (A.5768, Peoples-Stokes) would direct all agency websites to be equipped in a way that enables the public to submit online requests for records under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

In addition, the Assembly plans to take up a bill later in the year to establish disclosure requirements for the sponsors of paid political communications by political committees. Under the legislation (A.5768, Zebrowski), the identities of individuals or committees who paid for political communications, such as brochures, flyers, posters, mailings, phone calls and Internet advertisements, must be disclosed. Failure to identify the purchasers of the "paid for by" communications would result in a civil penalty of $1,000 or up to the cost of the communication, whichever is greater.