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Time to End OPRA exemptions provided by New Jersey’s public health emergency laws

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the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Trenton NJ, Senator Joe Pennacchio said it’s time to force Governor Phil Murphy to be more transparent about his flawed pandemic response by removing emergency powers he has used to block access to public records.

“Governor Murphy has hidden behind expanded OPRA exemptions provided by New Jersey’s public health emergency laws to deny or greatly restrict access to important public records during the pandemic,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “It’s time to remove the emergency powers he has used to stonewall legislators and journalists who have been trying to understand what went wrong with New Jersey’s pandemic response.”

The Murphy administration has repeatedly relied on sections of the state’s Health Powers Act to deny Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for information about pandemic response efforts.

Currently, correspondence, records, reports and medical information filed pursuant to the Act are not considered public records subject to OPRA and they cannot be reviewed.

While the end of the public health emergency should eliminate those exemptions going forward, Pennacchio said legislation (A-5777) being advanced by the Democratic legislative majorities would allow Governor Murphy to end the public health emergency next month while keeping his emergency powers until 2022.

“We’re deeply concerned that Democrats are advancing legislation that purports to end the public health emergency without actually restricting the governor’s emergency powers,” said Pennacchio. “It appears their bill will allow the governor to keep hiding the truth as he has for the past 14 months. That’s absolutely outrageous.”

Given the lack of transparency demonstrated by the Murphy administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennacchio said it’s clear the law needs to be updated to prevent a recurrence in future emergencies.

He also said changes need to be made to ensure that important documents and records creating during the pandemic are finally made public. Under current law, they can stay hidden away forever, even after the current public health emergency has ended.

To address those concerns, Pennacchio sponsors S-2751, which would lift restrictions on access to public and government records during declared emergencies.

Under his bill, any correspondence, records, and reports filed pursuant to the Emergency Health Powers Act during the pandemic will be subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act.

“We had 10,000 people die in our nursing and veterans home because of Governor Murphy’s bad decisions, but we couldn’t get important information from the administration to help guide policy changes that could have saved lives,” added Pennacchio. “That shouldn’t have happened during the coronavirus pandemic and it should never happen again.”

Pennacchio’s legislation was approved by the New Jersey Senate on September 24, 2020. It is currently pending consideration by the General Assembly.

4 thoughts on “Time to End OPRA exemptions provided by New Jersey’s public health emergency laws

  1. No Way !!!

    MAINTAIN CONTROL
    MAINTAIN CONTROL
    MAINTAIN CONTROL

  2. We need the information on certain information the things that are going on in the village.
    1,—- pickle ball fiasco.
    2,——Paid stipends for employees.
    Who’s receiving them,
    How much are they receiving.
    And why are they receiving the funds for.
    3,—— overtime budget in the police & fire departments.

  3. The way Ridgewood fulfills OPRA requests is completely and totally messed up. Instead of having a computer program pull the correspondence as requested, the clerk’s office asks each councilmember to supply the emails. This enables a council person to not supply certain ones that he or she chooses not to supply. It is a completely unreliable way to do it, and yet they persist in doing it this way. Other towns use an “OPRA Machine,” which is a computer program, which has no emotion, no agenda, no attempts at subterfuge. We at the BLOG know for a fact that Jeffrey Voigt attempted to withhold OPRA’ed emails that he did not want to appear on the BLOG. He actually told the village clerk this, that he didn’t want his emails appearing on the blog. He attempted to break the New Jersey sunshine laws by not supplying requested public documents.But of course Jeffrey Voigt was lower than the lowest, breaking rules left and right. But still, any council person could do this. This system Hass to become automated. It is ridiculous the way they continue to do this.

    Furthermore, by law one is allowed to submit an OPRA request anonymously. But, this is virtually impossible with the system that this village has in place.

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  4. So very true,
    They are so dirty,

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