The state Senate is pushing for more transparency from the Murphy Administration and its response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), with State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19), introduced a bill to make certain government records created during the crisis are accessible through the existing Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
“The idea is simple, if the record can be OPRAed in normal times, it should basically be accessible during a public health crisis,” said Weinberg in a press statement. “Instead, journalists and advocacy groups are having their OPRA requests for straight forward records be denied based on the ’emergency.’ This runs counter, fundamentally, to the intent of the act.”
Under current law, any correspondence, record, report and medical information made pursuant to the Emergency Health Powers Act is not considered a public or government record, and not accessible under an OPRA request.
“Emergencies are not the time for darkness because darkness breeds skepticism, suspicion and mistrust—the very last things New Jersey needs as we navigate these unchartered waters,” stated Weinberg.
The Bergen County state senator said during uncertain times, the ability to access state records on how and why decisions are being made is beneficial for both the public and those making the decisions.
“When the public is frightened, unsure and wondering why the people in power have decided on a particular course of action, open records and transparency builds faith in our institutions and public trust in our choices,” commented Weinberg.
The legislation specifies any personal identifying information will not be considered a public or government record and authorizes the Local Information Network and Communications (LINCS) agency to determine the accessibility of any record related to bioterrorism. A LINCS agency is responsible for central planning, coordination and delivery of specialized services within the designated county or city.
Vitale commented that even during these unprecedented, residents have the right to know what their government is doing and why they are doing it.
“This is a fundamental democratic principle and if we don’t hold on to our principles in times of crisis, then we don’t hold them at all,” said Vitale, Senate Health Committee chair.
Weinberg added “The public has done an incredible job, working together for months to keep this virus at bay in New Jersey. If we are going to maintain their trust and patience through the reopening phase, it is vital that we give them the ability to fully understand the process.”