Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Governor David Paterson Brings Sunshine To NY State

Gov. David A. Paterson signed ten new bills into law last week, three of which bring more transparency into public meetings by amending the Open Meetings Law. The bills were passed in the Legislature during this year’s Sunshine Week in mid March. Photo by Governor’s office.

State spreads some more sunshine
Group complains new open govt. laws don’t affect state Legislature

by James Nani, April 26, 2010

Gov. David A. Paterson signed 10 bills into law on April 14, three of which strengthen the state's Open Meetings Law.

The Open Meetings Law grants the public access to meetings of a large number of government bodies at the state and local level in New York.

Legislation signed by the governor includes one law (A.5873/S.4284) that will affect the Public Officers Law to ensure that public meetings are held in facilities that are able to

accommodate members of the public. It was sponsored by Sen. Dave Valesky, D- Oneida,(picture below) and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon (pictured above).

Another new law dealing with open meetings (A.10093/S.3195) would require state and local governments to establish rules allowing public meetings to be photographed, recorded — audio and video — and broadcast, including webcasts. The bill was sponsored by Valesky and Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome.

"I believe open government is most important at this time for people to continue to believe in their government," said Destito.

The governor also signed into law a measure (A.10196/S.7054) to let a court impose penalties when it finds violations of the Open Meetings Law. That bill was vetoed last year, according to a press release from Paterson's office, because that version would have created monetary penalties for violations of the law that would have been passed on to taxpayers, he said. This version signed into law will require training for those who do not comply. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck and Destito.

"As a responsible government, we have the duty to inform the public of the state's business and these new laws will help to do that," Paterson said. "I am extremely proud to have signed this legislation that will not only strengthen the state's Open Meetings Law in various ways, but will increase the public's right to attend, listen to and watch the decision-making process in action," he continued.

While the laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor would spread more sunshine on local public bodies, good government groups are complaining that New York leaders neglected to do the same at the state level.

Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said the Open Meetings Laws are "as good as
far as they go" but do little to change the culture of secrecy in Albany. Lerner said the new open meetings laws will affect regulatory bodies such as the Board of Elections, whereas budget discussions among state leaders and legislative conference meetings are still closed to the public, despite budget reform laws that passed in 2007.

"I think opening the process will give people more confidence in their leaders," said Lerner. "When things happen behind closed doors they always assume the worst," she continued.

In addition to the new sunshine laws, the governor also signed into law legislation (A.775-b/S.4645-b) that directs the commissioner of health to provide parents of children between 6 months and 18 years of age who are in daycare or school with information on influenza and immunization. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, D-Brooklyn, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale.
Senator Montgomery
"Last year, the flu posed a genuine public health threat to the people of New York. We can never be too careful in getting the word out on how to prevent and treat the flu, especially for our children," said Paterson.

"Vaccinating healthy youngsters protects the entire community," said Montgomery. "Children represent the greatest transmitters of influenza, and educating students to take their yearly shots will prevent them from becoming infected and spreading diseases. I commend the governor for signing this bill into law to keep our youth healthy and safe."

Paterson also signed a bill (A.3910-a/S.1535-a) amending state Election Law to permit victims of domestic violence to cast a special paper ballot — similar to absentee ballots — in elections rather than being required to appear at the polling place where their abuser might be able to stalk them. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Thomas P. Morahan, R-New City and Assemblyman Daniel H. Gabryszak D-Cheektowaga.

The following bills were also signed into law:

- A.1138/S.4529: Authorizes the College of Optometry of the State of New York to provide certain services to persons receiving medical assistance.

- A.4296-c/S.5915-a: Bans the use of employee confidentiality agreements for public authorities, except where information is protected by established, published rules, such as the Freedom of Information Law.

- A.7805-b/S.5461-b: Replaces the term "law guardian" with the term "attorney for the child" to more accurately reflect an attorney's role. The term guardian has caused misunderstanding and clashing expectations about the actions and intentions of the child's lawyer, particularly in civil family court cases. According to the bill summary, the term law guardian is often interpreted to mean someone who is playing a neutral role in the legal process.

- A.8558/S.5991: Creates an exemption for certain special assessments, fees and surcharges on hazardous waste generated on or at elementary or secondary schools. The legislation is intended to encourage schools to conduct cleanup efforts in consultation with the different governmental departments.

- S.6972-a/A.10065-a: Provides a temporary retirement incentive for certain public employees who are over 55 years old and have 25 years of service.