NJ Governor Murphy signs law restricting access to public records

Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey speaks at the Kenvue Ground Breaking on April 24, 2024 in Summit, New Jersey. (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images/TNS)

(New York Daily News/TNS) – A bill that would change the way public information is obtained, which critics say was intended to hinder public access to New Jersey government documents, was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday.

The law restructures the state’s Open Public Records Act, allowing officials to increase the cost of obtaining public records and sue data requesters for interrupting the “function of government.”

In addition, government agencies that deny access to data but are then successfully sued and forced to hand over the data will no longer have to pay applicants’ legal fees. That change could make it extremely expensive — nearly impossible for many — to sue for access to documents.

Murphy, a Democrat, defended his decision to sign the bill into law. He argues that it was intended to improve the functioning of government and reduce the burden on government officials, and not to destroy transparency and increase corruption.

“It is shameful that, despite the overwhelming concerns of their constituents, lawmakers took swift action and the Governor signed into law a bill that severely restricts access to government documents and limits the public’s ability to hold elected officials accountable.” , says Sarah Fajardo, government policy director. American Union for Civil Liberties of New Jersey.

“If I believed this bill would in any way enable corruption, I would veto it without hesitation,” Murphy said in a statement.

New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act was enacted in 2002 and is routinely used by journalists and other groups to obtain government documents that are not readily available.

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