New Jersey Governor Bill Murphy signs controversial public records bill into law Here is what it means.

Trenton, NJ – New Jersey Gov. Bill Murphy signed legislation Wednesday to overhaul access to the state’s public records. According to critics, it makes it difficult for the public and the media to access certain documents.

Murphy, a Democrat, acknowledged the disappointment of social justice, labor and other groups that have vehemently opposed the bill.

“If I believe this bill will enable corruption in any way, I will veto it without hesitation,” Murphy said. “After a thorough examination of the provisions of the bill, I am convinced that the changes taken as a whole are relatively modest.”

Critics say the OPRA bill would restrict access to information

The governor’s statement did not convince critics of the move.

“This is a dark day for our democracy—one that voters will not soon forget,” League of Women Voters X of New Jersey said in an earlier post on Twitter.

Law Replaces the state’s Open Public Records ActThe public and journalists regularly use it to obtain documents from state and local governments, including budgets, agency receipts, public salaries, correspondence, and other information that is not always easy to obtain.

The bill’s sponsors say they support transparency and want to help a beleaguered clerk who sometimes can’t handle the demands of business interests. Opponents of the bill argued that the move would make it harder to obtain documents and comes at a time when Americans’ trust in institutions is declining. In a May 2023 survey by AP-NORC and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a majority of respondents said news that reports on the facts facing the country or provides in-depth background and analysis is very or very helpful in understanding issues that matter to them. .

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Murphy nodded to this pessimism in his statement, but ultimately said he thought the move was an appropriate update to the law, which was launched more than two decades ago.

“Perhaps the most worrisome concern I’ve heard is that signing this bill will lead to corruption and erode confidence in our democracy,” he said. “I understand that we live in a moment where our democracy feels more fragile than ever.”

What’s in New Jersey’s OPRA Bill?

A provision in the law allows authorities to charge business interests twice the cost of producing the records. Authorizes other language agencies to prosecute those it accuses of interfering with “government operations.” The new law also ends the requirement that cities pay attorneys’ fees in court cases.

It would make it more expensive for members of the public and news reporters to challenge local and state governments in court, according to opponents of the bill, including civil rights groups, the state press association and several who testified at the committee hearing. Year.

Murphy pointed to a provision in the new law that says such a fee arrangement could still occur, though only if a court finds the public agency acted in bad faith or willfully or unreasonably withheld records. Critics of the move questioned whether judges would hesitate to declare a public corporation acting in bad faith.

The Associated Press has signed a letter from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists urging politicians to reject the law.

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