Legislation increases accountability and openness
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Westchester, 91st A.D.) announced that a package of legislation intended to increase accountability of state and local governments passed the Assembly, helping to shed a brighter light on the practices of government. The bills’ passage coincides with the annual, mid-March Sunshine Week – the national, non-partisan commemoration that stresses the importance of open government and freedom of information.
“Especially in times like these when more and more people want to know just how their tax dollars are being spent and how government is working for them, transparency and accountability are key,” Assemblyman Latimer said. “And right now, state government needs to be doing all it can to gain the trust and confidence of its people. That’s just what this legislation will help do.”
This year’s package of legislation includes bills that would:
- allow courts to overturn government decisions done in violation of open meetings laws and require public officials who disregard the law to attend compliance training sessions (A.10196);
- increase public awareness of government by clearly allowing the recording, broadcasting and photographing of government public meetings (A.10093);
- ban government agencies from claiming copyright protection whenever the materials don’t reflect artistic creation or scientific or academic research (A.5726-A);
- require public meetings, if practicable, to be held in facilities sufficiently sized to accommodate the number of people who wish to attend (A.5873);
- shorten the time state agencies have to appeal judgments against them for Freedom of Information Law violations from four months to 30 days (A.6484); and
- authorize state agencies to waive fees related to the reproduction of records requested by a member of the public (A.6371).
Assemblyman Latimer was the prime sponsor of A.6484, which passed the Assembly unanimously. He was the author of a prior law, codified as Chapter 182 of the laws of 2006, that provided for electronic access to FOIL documents by residents.
The Assembly has long been a champion for comprehensive government reform laws. In 2008, the Assembly helped pass a law allowing individuals to get a copy of a public record in a form other than paper (Ch. 223 of 2008). That same year, the Assembly helped pass a law requiring that subject-matter lists maintained by state agencies be posted online (Ch. 499 of 2008). Last year, the Assembly helped pass a law requiring public bodies to post notices of the places and times of public meetings on their Web sites (Ch. 26 of 2009) and requiring agencies to accept and respond to requests for records under the Personal Privacy Protection Law (Ch. 27 of 2009).
“Sunshine Week reminds us to push for better government transparency laws. I remain committed to making government more user-friendly for the people and more accountable,” Latimer continued. “I’ll continue to work to strengthen the public’s right to know.”