On the first day of the lame-duck session, NJ Working Families Party, League of Women Voters NJ and the American Civil Liberties Union NJ joined over 60 pro-democracy advocates from across the state to tell returning lawmakers to not fast track changes to the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) law. The letter urges Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen County) to pursue a thoughtful and deliberative process after the current 6-week legislative session.
In a state synonymous with political corruption, OPRA has been a bulwark against government corruption and political malfeasance at all levels of government. NJ WFP and partners are leading the fight for transparency to ensure the public’s rights to public records are preserved. Signers of the letter included advocates for good government, criminal justice, racial and social justice, and journalists.
Senate President Scutari and Senator Sarlo,
We, the undersigned, represent a broad coalition of advocates from across our state fighting to make New Jersey more affordable for working families and to strengthen our democracy.
We are writing to express extreme concern about your recent statements indicating your desire to fast-track changes to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) in the lame-duck session.
OPRA is fundamental to maintaining an open and accountable government. It has served as a critical bulwark to hold our elected officials – from borough council members to county commissioners to the Governor – accountable to the public and safeguard taxpayer dollars. Concerned members of the public, journalists, advocates, and other stakeholders from across the state have used OPRA to track government spending, examine the wisdom of decisions affecting thousands of families, and bring accountability to our criminal justice system.
In just the last few years, public records obtained through OPRA have led to reforms in millions of state dollars spent on behalf of the Schools Development Authority, helped uncover the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state-run veterans’ homes, and highlighted the impact of toxic chemicals polluting communities across the state.
We have not been privy to the OPRA legislation drafts. Alarmingly, we have heard indications that the legislative changes will likely target reducing OPRA requests by significantly gutting the essential fee-shifting provisions, preventing requesters from first going to Superior Court to enforce their rights under OPRA, eliminating instances of OPRA appeals, increasing OPRA exemptions, and more. These changes would embolden officials at every level of government to act with impunity. Together, they seem designed to shield powerful special interests with lucrative government contracts from scrutiny rather than benefit New Jersey taxpayers and voters.
No OPRA bill hastily passed in the upcoming lame-duck session will deliver positive results for New Jersey voters. Any changes in this session are ill-considered and threaten to make all levels of New Jersey government significantly less transparent. Instead of pursuing legislative efforts that buy into an anti-democratic agenda, now is the time to lay out a vision for our state in which accountability and transparency are hallmarks of our governance.
We are calling on you to stop efforts to push through an OPRA bill in this lame-duck session. We urge you to actively engage with advocates on this issue and pursue a thoughtful and deliberative process next year — one that is open to public input and takes the necessary time to deliver a win for New Jerseyans.
Antoinette Miles, NJ Working Families Party
Sarah Fajardo, American Civil Liberties Union NJ
Jesse Burns, League of Women Voters NJ
co-signatories in alphabetical order by organization
AAPI Montclair/New Jersey
Camden Parents Union
Camden We Choose
|Donna M Chiera
Center For Policing Equity
American Economic Liberties Project
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch
Cherry Hill Women’s Center
|Sai Bhargavi Akiri
Asha For Education
Clean Water Action
Berkeley Heights Community Watch
Communications Workers of America NJ
Community Empowerment Group of NJ
Environment New Jersey
|Erik Cruz Morales
New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice
Fair Share Housing Center
New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center
Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network
New Jersey Citizen Action
Freedom Of The Press Foundation
New Jersey Foundation For Open
New Jersey Institute For Social Justice
Highland Park Residents For Community
New Jersey Policy Perspective
Newark Communities For Accountable Policing
NJ 11th for Change
Ironbound Community Corporation
Jersey City Young Democrats
Our Revolution NJ
Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center
Partners For Women And Justice
Latino Action Network
People Demanding Astion
Make The Road New Jersey
Piscataway Progressive Democrats
The Jersey Bee
Rise Against Hate
The Mount Holly Reporter
Salvation And Social Justice
The New Jersey Media Transparency
Trenton Anti-Violence Coalition
Sussex County Progressives
|Rev. Charles Loflin
Unitarian Universalist Faith Action NJ
SWEEP New Jersey
|Mary Barr Mann
The Citizens Campaign
Wind Of The Spirit Immigrant Resource
The Franklin Reporter & Advocate