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Legislature gives citizens a big nothing-burger on transparency

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Legislature gives citizens a big nothing-burger on transparency

State lawmakers passed a lot of important legislation and spent a lot of your tax dollars ($175.5 billion) as part of the annual passage of the state budget.

One thing they didn't do when they had the opportunity is advance the cause of open government. In fact, if you look at what they did do, New York actually took a step backward when it comes to transparency in government.

Before the budget negotiations, New Yorkers had a right to view mugshots of criminal suspects, allowing them to place a face to the people charged with crimes and perhaps provide information about other criminal activity perpetuated by these individuals. But in the name of protecting personal privacy in the wake of some companies using old mugshots to blackmail people into paying them money, lawmakers took away this long-standing and fundamental access. They actually planned to go even further, by prohibiting disclosure of information about people being arrested and booked. But we suspect the media and public pressure of imposing a system of secret arrests on society was a bit too much for them to take the heat on. So they pulled back on that.

But that wasn't all the Legislature did, or rather didn't do.

It set aside $500,000 in the budget for a Database of Deals website that would provide detailed information to the public about the companies that apply for and receive contracts from the state. This legislation is necessary to help deter and expose corruption in the awarding of lucrative government contracts. While they set aside money, they didn't pass any legislation saying exactly what would be included on the website. The money is useless unless they actually come up with a project to spend it on. Hopefully, they'll do it by the end of the legislative session in June.

Let's see. What else? They removed a proposal that would have applied more of the state's Freedom of Information Law to their activities and records. They took no action to provide more public access to E-911, trade secrets, proposed collective bargaining agreements or police disciplinary records.

That doesn't sound like a government that wants the public to know what it's doing. Instead, it sounds like a government that likes keeping secrets and has no intention of letting the public see any more than it wants them to.

When it comes to transparency, the Legislature kept the curtain closed.