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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Assemblyman David Buchwald and the Push For Government Transparency in New York

 The Records Access Office at the NYC DOE has been out of work for years.              
Gotta stop.Gotta. Betsy Combier

Editorial: Public shouldn't have to wait this long for documents

Think about this for a moment: In New York, a government agency could lose a Freedom of Information Law case — be ordered by the court to hand over documents — but still take up to nine months to decide whether it will appeal and, thus, hold back complying with the ruling.
That's insane.
The public has the right to see and obtain most government records, and needless delays deny that right. Journalists in particular make good use of the Freedom of Information Law, and they need more timely rulings by the courts.
When cases drag out for months (if not years) the information sometimes becomes moot even if the request is ultimately approved. What's more, a speedier resolution tends to reduce court costs.
That's why some good-government groups and the New York News Publishers Association are pushing for right-minded changes, such as considerably shortening the time frame from a judicial ruling to when an agency must decide whether to appeal.
Assemblyman David Buchwald
A bill sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-Westchester, has passed the Assembly and would reduce the time from nine to two months. Sen. Michael Ranzenhoffer, R-Amherst, has offered the same legislation in the Senate, but it has not passed yet, and lawmakers only have a few weeks until the end of the legislative session.
The Journal urges the state senators from this area — George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mt. Hope, Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, William Larkin, R-Newburgh and Sue Serino, R-Hyde Park — to not only back this bill but to publicly and urgently support its passage.
The state's Freedom of Information Law is one of the most vital tools for the public to keep tabs on the workings of government. The statute clearly puts the burden on government agencies to explain why a document shouldn't be disclosed; the burden is not supposed to be on the public to make the case why a document should be made available. And timely disclosure also is key, whether the public wants information on health-related records or access to papers connected to a development that is close to government permit approval.
The Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc., The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, The League of Women Voters of New York State and the state Committee on Open Government are among those advocating improving public access to documents by speeding up the final determination on FOIL requests.
The Senate should join the Assembly in approving this legislation — and then Gov. Andrew Cuomo should sign the legislation into law at once.

Assemblyman Buchwald Passes Bill to Increase Transparency in Government

Good Government Legislation Approved in Assembly as Part of Annual “Sunshine Week”
March 19, 2015
Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester) announced that the State Assembly has unanimously passed his legislation (bill number A.114) to increase openness and efficiency in government by speeding up the appeals process for Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) cases. The bill requires all state agencies who wish to file an appeal in a lawsuit challenging FOIL compliance to do so within thirty days after a court judgment and to finalize the appeal paperwork by no more than a grand total of ninety days.

“An honorable government is open to the people it serves – where citizens can freely access the information they seek to better understand how policies are set and their tax dollars are being spent,” Assemblyman Buchwald stated. “This bill aims to make the FOIL process speedier so that government is more accountable to our families. I am pleased that the State Assembly has once again passed this important piece of legislation.”

The bill creates an expedited process for determining appeals of FOIL decisions. Under the present law, a government agency’s denial of request for records may be overturned by a court, but the government agency can file a notice of appeal and has up to nine months to perfect the appeal. This further delay, in many circumstances, is unfair and restricts an individual’s rights. The delaying of disclosure, through the appeals process, may make moot the individual’s FOIL request and functionally deny them the timely access to get the documents they need. In addition, a speedier resolution reduces court costs borne by all parties, including the taxpayers of New York.

“A painful issue involves the reality that access delayed is access denied,” said Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government for the Department of State. “This legislation would preclude government agencies from delaying disclosure unnecessarily and requiring them to make decisions quickly regarding appeals when the Supreme Court has determined that they must disclose their records.”

Assemblyman Buchwald’s bill was passed by a vote of 147-0 in conjunction with Sunshine Week, a national bipartisan effort highlighting the importance of open government, which is celebrated around President James Madison’s birthday. This year it runs from March 15 through 21. “It’s our obligation as representatives to guarantee that all New Yorkers have access to government decision-making processes so that they can be active participants,” Assemblyman Buchwald affirmed.

This measure was one of the first bills Assemblyman Buchwald passed as a newly elected official in 2013. This year, he’s continuing his long standing pledge to advocate for an open government and urges the State Senate to follow suit and help enact these measures into law. The bill has bipartisan support in both houses, with Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst) and Westchester’s own Senator George Latimer (D-Rye) having sponsored the bill in the State Senate. The Senate’s identical version of the bill (S.1531) has yet to pass this year.

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