January 22, 2013
Re: Revised Open Public Meetings Act Bill Introduced
Senator Weinberg has recently introduced S-2511, which amends the Open Public Meetings Act. It appears that S-2511 was introduced to replace S-1451, which was held by the State Senate in December. (See our letter at http://www.njslom.org/letters/2012-1221-OPRA-OPMA.html)
S-2511 contains many of the same provisions found in SCS S-1451, such as the continued exemption of the Legislature from the provisions. However, there are some notable changes as follows:
- Definition of subcommittees has been changed. The new definition is now “any subordinate committee of a public body, except the Legislature, regardless of label, that is formally created by that body, comprised of two or more members, but less than a quorum, of the public body, and recognized by the public body as a subcommittee thereof.”
- Removes requirement that subcommittees must prepare minutes and replaces it with the requirement that the subcommittees prepare a report of its meetings that must include number of meetings, names of members of the committee and a concise statement of the matters discussed. The public body must prepare a schedule of when the reports must be filed, however, every subcommittee must file at least one report with the public body. A subcommittee report is available for public access in the same manner as minutes of a meeting of the public body.
- The public body must determine if a subcommittee meeting is open to the public. If the meeting is open to the public, adequate notice must be provided.
- Includes a statement that”…other requirements applicable to meetings of public bodies shall not apply to meetings of subcommittees.”
- Minutes must be made available to the public as soon as possible but no later than 60 days or the second meeting of the public body after the meeting for which the minutes were prepared, whichever is later.
- If a member of the public body, other the Legislature, becomes aware that the meeting is in violation of Open Public Meetings Act the presiding member must ensure that minutes of that meeting shall be made.
- Each public body, other than the Legislature, shall keep comprehensive minutes of all its meetings
- Removes the ability of the public body to determine a reasonable length of time for public comment. However, such comment period may be limited solely to items listed on the agenda so long as an additional public comment period is set aside at the meeting at which time a member of the public may discuss any issue he or she feels may be of concern to and within the authority of the public body.
- Each speaker is permitted at least 3 minutes during public comment. The public body may limit the amount of time a member of the public can speak in excess of 3 minutes.
- If an item is to be added to the agenda after adequate notice has been provided 2/3 of the members present must vote in the affirmative to add the item. In addition, a statement must be included in the minutes explaining the reason for adding the item to the agenda, why the item did not appear on the agenda and why delaying consideration of the item is not in the public interest. The Legislature may add an item to the agenda at any time.
- If an individual is found in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act they must pay the fine from their personal funds.
- Under no circumstances shall public funds be used to pay a fine or reimburse a person who has paid, or will pay, a fine for violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
- Removes NJ Network Foundation for the definition of “Public Body”
- Adds the following statement to the section regarding websites “For the purposes of P.L. 1975, c. 231 (c. 10:4-6 et seq.), the Internet site to which the information is submitted shall be deemed established by each submitting public body.”
S-2511 was introduced on January 14 and moved to 2nd reading in Senate without any committee hearings. While we appreciate Senator Weinberg’s efforts, we must continue to oppose the amendments to the Open Public Meeting Act. The changes proposed in S-211 will not only be a cost driver for local and State government but make government less effective. In addition, in the interest of transparency and openness, we urge the Legislature to remove the various exceptions in the Open Public Meetings Law that apply to the Legislature. The rules that the legislation makes applicable to other governmental bodies should apply equally to all governmental levels and officials.
If you have any questions or need additional information please contact Lori Buckelew at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-695-3481 x 112.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.