Once again, the state Legislature has an opportunity to make it more difficult for the government to deny citizens access to public records in a timely manner.
The bill, A9711A/S6865A, would significantly speed up the appeals process when a trail court has ruled in favor of a citizen's access to records.
Not only do you have a right to public records, but you also have a right to obtain them in a timely manner.
But governments that don't want to part with records, even when judges decide that they should, will use delaying tactics to get the outcome they desire.
Right now, you could wait up to nine months for a record, after a decision has been made in your favor to release a document, while the government agency "perfects" its appeal.
Those agencies that don't want you to have the records will use every minute of those nine months.
Given that most government records these days are accessible by computers, given that government staff can readily locate such records in a timely manner, and given that the government body is working off of a judge's ruling, there's no reason to give government bodies three-quarters of a year to articulate to an appellate court why they shouldn't have to turn over the records.
What happens in many cases is that either the citizen gives up on the court proceedings for lack of time, money or patience, or simply no longer needs the record that they had sought.
For instance, if you're seeking information on a government budget item, you might not need that item well after the budget has been passed.
So they essentially deny you the record by dragging out the process for obtaining it.
Not only is this in defiance of the concept of open government, it also would be in defiance of the actual law.
This legislation, which is similar to legislation already vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the promise of more comprehensive transparency legislation, would severely limit the government's ability to drag things out for so long.
Warren County state Sen. Betty Little is among the Senate co-sponsors. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Westchester Assemblyman David Buchwald.
And it has the strong support of the New York News Publishers Association, which advocates for open government legislation in Albany on behalf of the media.
Why let government bodies get away with unnecessary delays in releasing public records. If the government has a legitimate reason for denying a record and denying an appeal, it should be able to articulate that in a timely manner so that a decision can be made quickly.
Passage of this bill would be a victory for the citizens' right to know, and state lawmakers should pass it before they leave for the summer.