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New York State Needs To Start Getting Serious About Open Governments

If state lawmakers are serious about transparency and open government, they will pass two pieces of recently introduced legislation when the next legislative session begins in January.

The first is A.7914, sponsored by Assemblywoman Jo Ann Simon, D-Brooklyn, which would allow public participation in meetings through telephone conference, video conferencing or other technology. It is similar to Assembly and Senate rules passed allowing state legislators to participate via phone or videoconferencing as long as it is approved by the leadership of their respective chamber. Many local governments have followed suit by passing legislation allowing their members to join meetings remotely. But members of the public still have to attend in person in order to participate, while few local governments live stream or record their meetings to be viewed by members of the public who can’t attend.

In our view, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If government can work from home, then the public should be able to see what their government is doing from the comfort of their couches.

Legislators should also sign off on A.7933, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-New York City, to create a special court proceeding for FOIL and Open Meetings Law reviews within the state’s Supreme Courts located in each county throughout the state, though the local state Supreme Court justice won’t be hearing the cases.

It makes little sense that the appeal for a denied FOIL application is done by the agency that denied the appeal in the first place. Appeals should be heard by an impartial officer of the court. And it’s no secret that the state Open Meetings Law has no teeth. At the very least complaints should be heard by an impartial officer and a decision rendered so there is a record of a government’s unwillingness or inability to follow the law.

State lawmakers love to talk about how much they back transparency during the annual March observance of Sunshine Week, a national celebration of the right to know and access to public information. Taking action on these bills in January would speak louder than any flowery Sunshine Week speeches in March.

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