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A09332 Summary:

COSPNSRHyndman, Abinanti, Simon, Walker, Robinson, Gottfried
MLTSPNSRCook, Glick, Lawrence
Rpld §50-a, Civ Rts L
Repeals section 50-a of the civil service law relating to personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers.
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A09332 Memo:

submitted in accordance with Assembly Rule III, Sec 1(f)
SPONSOR: O'Donnell
  TITLE OF BILL: An act to repeal section 50-a of the civil rights law, relating to personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction offi- cers   PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: This bill would repeal Section 50-a of the civil rights law.   SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: Section one of the bill repeals section 50-a of the civil rights law. Section two is the effective date.   JUSTIFICATION: § 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law permits law enforcement officers to refuse disclosure of "personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion." This exemption was adopted in 1976 by the Legislature in order to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using such records in cross examination of police witnesses during criminal prosecutions. According to the 2014 annual report by the State Committee on Open Government to the Governor and the State Legislature, "this narrow exemption has been expanded in the courts to allow police departments to withhold from the public virtually any record that contains any information that could conceivably be used to evaluate the performance of a police officer." The evolution of § 50-a has defeated The Freedom of Information Law's (FOIL) goal of accountability and transparency. FOIL already provides all public employees, including those protected under § 50-a, the protections necessary to guard against unwarranted invasions of privacy and from disclosures that could jeopardize their security or safety. Furthermore, courts have the ability to protect against improper cross- examination and determine if police records are admissible in a trial, without the denial of public access to information regarding police activity created by § 50-a. The 1976 enactment of § 50-a may have been necessary to safeguard law enforcement officers from improper personnel record exposure during criminal prosecutions, but that is no longer the case today. The general rules and statutory exceptions of FOIL - for example in instances that disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy - are sufficient in protecting police from unfair cross examination by crimi- nal defense lawyers. Moreover, the State Committee on Open Government notes that "(§ 50-a) creates a legal shield that prohibits disclosure, even when it is known that misconduct has occurred." FOIL's public poli- cy goals, which are to make government agencies and their employees accountable to the public, are thus undermined by the statute. Outright appeal of this statute will positively affect public trust in law enforcement and serve to hold police and other uniformed law enforcement officials to the same level of accountability applied to all other public employees.   PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: None. New bill.   FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None.   EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect immediately.
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