While the year in transparency got off to a rocky start with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s furtive selection of a new director of the state Committee on Open Government, the Senate and Assembly are starting the year off right with two bills that promise to make government in New York more accessible to citizens.
One bill, A121A/S1630B, would require the Legislature and related agencies to place documents considered of “substantial interest” to the public and documents already available under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) online.
The concept is known as “proactive disclosure,” which simply means government posts public documents without making the citizens have to ask for them or file FOIL requests for them.
State government doesn’t have a great history responding quickly or affirmatively to FOIL requests, and the process can often be time-consuming and costly for citizens and the media.
Posting public documents online not only saves people from having to request them, but saves government staff the time and expense of responding to FOIL requests. That allows staffers more time to deal with other business, including FOIL requests, perhaps speeding up responses and saving the taxpayers money.
The bill, which has been kicking around since 2013, is sponsored by members of the Democratic majority in each house, with local sponsorship from Assemblymen Angelo Santabarbara and Phil Steck.
The other bill (A526A/S2959A) would expand the state Open Meetings Law to include entities created to perform a necessary governmental function.
What happens now is that government bodies create separate organizations to do government work and perform governmental services.
But since they’re not official government bodies recognized as such under the law, they’re not subject to the state’s transparency laws and therefore can do the government’s business in secret.
This legislation would close a gaping loophole in the law by giving citizens legal access to these organizations’ proceedings.
Again, both the Senate and Assembly versions have Democratic sponsors, which significantly improves their chances.
These bills are reasonable, measured and practical expansions of the public’s right to know, and we hope the Legislature will consider them and pass them quickly.
They’re off to a good start.
Let’s hope they finish strong.