OPRA Legislation Signed Into Law

Gov. Murphy Signs OPRA Modernization Into Law
 

TRENTON - (June 5, 2024) - Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a controversial bill overhauling New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) into law.

Many advocacy groups and activists criticized the bill as a blow to government transparency. In a statement, Murphy acknowledged that his decision to sign the bill would be a contentious one. 

In that statement, Murphy acknowledged the many groups and politicians who protested against it during its passage through the legislature.

“I have heard the many objections to the bill directly, and I know that they are made in good faith and with good intentions,” Murphy wrote. “I also commend everyone who has engaged in this debate for making their voice heard, which is the foundation of our democratic system of government.”

Ultimately, the Governor said that he did not believe the bill would harm transparency.

“The Legislature’s task of balancing all of the interests involved in this challenging issue was not an easy one and should not be subject to derision,” he said. “While I do not believe the concerns raised about some provisions of the bill are irrational, I am persuaded that the safeguards in the bill and the protections provided by the [Government Records Council] and the courts are sufficient to mitigate them. If I believed that this bill would enable corruption in any way, I would unhesitatingly veto it.”

The newly enacted law makes a number of changes to OPRA, a landmark act put into place in 2002. It weakens the requirement for local governments to pay requestors’ legal fees when successfully sued over records denials; adds new limitations on what personal information can be revealed via records requests; and creates a separate set of rules for commercial requestors, among many other things.

The reform bill first emerged in March with the strong support of legislative leadership from both parties, and was quickly put on the fast track for passage. But after outcry from a number of top Democrats – among them the governor’s wife, First Lady Tammy Murphy, who was running for U.S. Senate at the time – it was pulled from the legislative schedule.

In April, Fairleigh Dickinson University released a poll finding that 81% of state voters didn’t like the proposed reforms and would rather keep OPRA as it is. On May 13, 2024, both the NJ Senate and the Assembly passed S-2930with bipartisan support, to modernize the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The Legislation seeks to preserve access to public records, addresses privacy concerns first recommended two decades ago and helps level the playing field regarding attorney fees.

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