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Sunshine Week: NYS Assembly passes legislation enhancing openness & accountability in government

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Wed, Mar 13th 2019 11:40 am

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governmental Operations Committee Chairwoman Michele Titus marked the nationwide observance of Sunshine Week with the passage of legislation to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in order to enhance openness and accountability in government.

“With the passage of these bills, the Assembly builds on its longstanding dedication to making our government more transparent, accountable and responsive to our citizens,” Heastie said. “The changes brought on by this legislation will improve the public’s access to records and understanding of the work our government does, and will enhance public participation necessary for an effective government.”

Titus said, “The Assembly's Sunshine legislation strengthens laws here in New York by removing hurdles that can impact how citizens interact with government and their ability to access government information. We must continue to bolster public confidence in government, as our actions affect the lives of millions.”

During the annual observance of Sunshine Week, the Assembly passed several measures to enhance the public’s access to official records, including bills that address concerns raised about the broad usage of copyrights, investigations by law enforcement or litigation in court as grounds for withholding information from the public.

One of the bills (A.5636, Galef) would establish that information denied to the public because the information is copyrighted by an agency is only permissible when the records requested under FOIL involve artistic creation, scientific or academic research, and other proprietary information.

For FOIL requests involving criminal actions, the Assembly’s Sunshine package includes a bill (A.3939, Englebright) to clarify that records cannot be withheld from the public solely because they involve an investigation or criminal proceedings. It also ensures that, when the law enforcement exemption is used to deny a FOIL request out of concern the disclosure will interfere with a judicial proceeding, only the presiding judge can determine whether to uphold the exemption or release such information. 

Other Assembly enhancements include a measure that would require greater disclosure in lease agreements involving the State of New York and office buildings owned by LLCs (A.3832, McDonald), and a bill that requires the identity of political action committees to be disclosed for certain political communication expenditures (A.4668, Zebrowski).

Finally, the Assembly approved a clarification that, while the name of a state pension retiree can be publicly disclosed, the name of the retiree’s beneficiary is to be protected (A.4061, Englebright).

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