State lawmakers generally support Sunshine Week by passing a package of bills that furthers the cause of open government in New York.
But this year’s effort is more like a dark cloud.
Earlier this week, as part of its Sunshine Week announcement, the state Assembly offered a list of initiatives that at best could be characterized as paltry and at worse offensive.
In editorials earlier this week, we provided a long list of proposed open government legislation the Legislature should consider. It included a tax credit for media organizations to hire local reporters, legislation to strengthen ethics oversight over campaign finance laws, more disclosure of campaign finance reports, requiring judicial candidates to post their campaign finance reports, and closing a loophole in the Open Meetings Law that allow government bodies to meet in secret as political bodies.
As extensive as that list was, it didn’t scratch the surface about what lawmakers need to do.
But what did we get from lawmakers?
We got a milquetoast package of four bills that, while welcome, don’t begin to address the state’s transparency shortfalls.
One bill would require Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) entering into a lease with the state to disclose the names and residential address of its members, managers or other authorized individuals. Good and necessary. OK.
Another involved closing the loophole that allows government officials to claim copyright protections on work commissioned as a fundamental duty of government. The fact that that needs a law to change it is a travesty in itself.
Another would require state agencies to post public documents such as annual reports and studies on their websites. The media and good government groups have been pushing for years for government bodies to post commonly sought records online so that citizens don’t have to request them. This is one step toward that goal.
And a fourth bill that would list cryptocurrency assets on financial disclosure statements was actually on the list presented in our editorial and advocated by good government groups.
All of these bills will help advance the cause of open government in New York, but in very small and narrow increments.
Lawmakers had an opportunity to use Sunshine Week to significantly strengthen the state’s open government laws and to make the state more open and transparent for the citizens.
What they actually did falls woefully short of what they could have, and should have, done.
There’s still time left in the legislative session to pass more substantial open government legislation.
Let’s hope what they’ve done so far is only a preview and not the final outcome.