Difference between revisions of "New Jersey Open Public Records Act"

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A 2007 study, '''Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests''', conducted by [[Better Government Association|BGA]] and the [[National Freedom of Information Coalition|NFOIC]], gave New Jersey 87 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "B" and a ranking of 2 out of the 50 states.<ref>[http://nfoic.org/states-failing-foi-responsiveness States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007]</ref>
 
A 2007 study, '''Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests''', conducted by [[Better Government Association|BGA]] and the [[National Freedom of Information Coalition|NFOIC]], gave New Jersey 87 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "B" and a ranking of 2 out of the 50 states.<ref>[http://nfoic.org/states-failing-foi-responsiveness States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007]</ref>
  
A 2002 study, '''Freedom of Information in the USA''', conducted by [[Investigative Reporters and Editors|IRE]] and [[Better Government Association|BGA]], ranked New Jersey's law as the 2nd best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "B".<ref>[http://legacy.ire.org/foi/bga/ ''Freedom of Information in the USA'', 2002]</ref>
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A 2002 study, '''Freedom of Information in the USA''', conducted by [[Investigative Reporters and Editors|IRE]] and [[Better Government Association|BGA]], ranked New Jersey's law as the 2nd best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "B."<ref>[http://legacy.ire.org/foi/bga/ ''Freedom of Information in the USA'', 2002]</ref>
  
 
==Features of the law==
 
==Features of the law==

Latest revision as of 07:40, 25 March 2014

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The Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, is the name of the New Jersey law guaranteeing access to public records in the state. OPRA became the state's sunshine law on January 8, 2002, when Donald DiFrancesco signed it. It replaced, and significantly improved, a pre-existing right-to-know law.

The New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act regulates how governments hold public meetings.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see New Jersey FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and New Jersey sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in New Jersey (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Asbury Park Press v. New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation 2005
Asbury Park Press v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office 2004
Asbury Park Press v. Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority 2005
Burnett (Cimino) v. Gloucester County 2010
Fair Share Housing Center v. New Jersey League of Municipalities 2010
Gannett New Jersey Partners v. County of Middlesex 2005
Gench v. Hunterdon County 2010
Monmouth County v. Asbury Park Press 2010
Nero v. Hyland 1978
Polillo v. Deane 1977
Times of Trenton v. Lafayette Yard CDC 2005


Proposed changes

2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Sen. Loretta Weinberg proposed to revamp the state's 1975 Open Public Meetings Act, which regulates how governments hold public meetings. "The advancement of new technologies has raised questions not envisioned when the Legislature adopted the measure three decades ago," said Weinberg during a Sunshine Week NJ FOG sponsored event.[1] The bill she was sponsoring was Senate Bill 1548 (identical to Assembly Bill 2841).[2][3]

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan sponsored legislation to limit copying fees for public documents. "This bill represents a fair and equitable solution that would ensure all citizens have access to public records regardless of their financial ability to access them," said Cryan during a Sunshine Week NJ FOG sponsored event.[4] The bill he is sponsoring is Assembly Bill 1095.[5]

New Jersey's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked New Jersey #1 in the nation with an overall percentage of 65.40%.[6]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave New Jersey 87 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "B" and a ranking of 2 out of the 50 states.[7]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked New Jersey's law as the 2nd best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "B."[8]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The declared legal intention of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act states:

  • "government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest, and any limitations on the right of access accorded by P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented, shall be construed in favor of the public's right of access;
  • all government records shall be subject to public access unless exempt from such access by: P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented; any other statute; resolution of either or both houses of the Legislature; regulation promulgated under the authority of any statute or Executive Order of the Governor; Executive Order of the Governor; Rules of Court; any federal law, federal regulation, or federal order ;
  • a public agency has a responsibility and an obligation to safeguard from public access a citizen's personal information with which it has been entrusted when disclosure thereof would violate the citizen's reasonable expectation of privacy; and nothing contained in P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, shall be construed as affecting in any way the common law right of access to any record, including but not limited to criminal investigatory records of a law enforcement agency."[9]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Records in New Jersey include "any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data processed or image processed document, information stored or maintained electronically or by sound-recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made, maintained or kept on file."[10]

Exemptions

Notable exemptions include but are not limited to:

  • information held by a legislator concerning a constituent or contacts between legislators and constituent
  • any communication within the legislature
  • photographs of deceased individuals from coroner reports except for use by law enforcement and academic research
  • criminal investigations including victim's records
  • trade secrets
  • anything falling under attorney-client privilege, where the state body acts as a client
  • security information pertaining to individuals, infrastructure or electronics
  • any information that would create unfair competition
  • employee grievances and complaints as well as contract negotiations
  • military discharge information
  • personal information, including "Social Security number, credit card number, unlisted telephone number or driver license number"[11]
  • academic research
  • examinations
  • records of charitable donations
  • special collections of books or objects
  • student and applicant records[12]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Agencies included in the law are the executive and the legislature and all organizations created by those entities, as well as all levels of state and local government.[13]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

The New Jersey legislature explicitly falls within the definition of public body found at New Jersey Ann. Stat. 47:1A-1.1 and is thus subject to the act.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-New Jersey

Private entities in New Jersey are subject to the public records law if they receive public funds, were created by a public body, are controlled by a public body or perform a public function.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, academic research, examinations and records of charitable donations are all exempt under New Jersey Ann. Stat. 47:1A-1.1, as well as student and applicant records.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

The law states that citizens of New Jersey may request public documents of the state. Government "records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State."[14] The one exception is convicted criminals seeking information on victims.[15] However, restrictions placed by states on requesters from other states have been overturned in federal court in the case of Lee v. Minner.

Impact of Lee v. Minner

In 2006, a federal appeals court (the Third Circuit), in the case Lee v. Minner, rejected the constitutionality of Delaware's law that disallowed non-residents from making public record requests.

The Third Circuit's rulings apply to Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and any other state that permits access to only state citizens. As a result, the provision in the New Jersey Open Public Records Act that prohibits non-residents from access to records is likely to be considered invalid.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

There is no requirement of a statement of purpose for OPRA requests. The law allows for anonymous requests with limited exceptions.[16]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

There are no restrictions placed on the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

New Jersey law allows up to seven days to respond to a records request. Failure by a department to respond in this time frame is considered a denial of the request.[17]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

According to New Jersey law, fees for records, in general, may only include the physical cost of the means of duplication. However, when the request involves an "extraordinary expenditure of time and effort" an additional fee may be charged.[18] Gov. Christie signed into law a bill that allows the state to only charge $0.05 for letter sized documents and $0.07 for legally sized documents.[19] Prior to the law, the state could charge as much as $0.75 per document.

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

New Jersey law does not permit public bodies to charge for search fees.

Records commissions and ombudsmen

See also: State records commissions

The New Jersey Government Records Council was established by statute and is charged with enforcing the provisions of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. The GRC:

  • Responds to inquiries and complaints about the law from the public and public agency records custodians;
  • Issues public information about the law and services provided by the Council;
  • Maintains a toll-free help-line and Web site to assist the public and records custodians;
  • Issues advisory opinions on the accessibility of government records;
  • Delivers training on OPRA;
  • Provides mediation of disputes about access to government records;
  • Resolves disputes regarding access to government records.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

The state Attorney General serves no specific role in the enforcement of the open records law other than standing in as acting attorney for the Government Records Council.

See also

External links

References