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A better FOI law ahead for New York state?

with 3 comments

New York’s state Legislature, not necessarily known as a benefactor of John and Jane Q. Public, has done something right for a change. Both chambers have passed a bill that would strengthen the state’s freedom of information law.

If you’re looking for a public document that reveals a no-bid sweetheart contract or an underhanded, devious land deal, the state FOI law — assuming Gov. Pataki signs the bill into law — would penalize government officials who put roadblocks in your path. Says the AP:

Government officials who wrongly deny or delay release of public records under the state Freedom of Information Law would be forced to pay attorney’s fees …

This is a significant change needed because of a state Supreme Court decision last year. The court “ruled that under the current statute, documents sought under the Freedom of Information Law must be of significant interest to the public to justify the state paying the attorney fees to get those records.” [emphasis added]

If you sued for records and a court thought your request did not meet the “significance” test, you’re stuck with paying your lawyer.

Under this bill, that test of significance is removed. If officials stall your request and you sue, the officials will have to pony up for your lawyer out of their own pocket.

Says the AP:

The measure requires the government to grant or deny a written request within 20 days of its receipt. If the release of data must be delayed, the government must identify a date that records will be provided. Failure to follow the new rule could lead to civil court action.

Getting stuck with legal fees is a powerful incentive for public officials obsessed with secrecy to fulfill FOI requests promptly — no more stalling for months or years. [See Troy Record editorial.]

Gov. Pataki ought to sign this bill promptly — and other states ought to follow suit.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 20, 2006 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Now if the Senecas would be a little more forthcoming with tribal stuff… It’s hell trying to get some info from them, and they don’t have to play by the rules of FOIA.
    This is a step in the right direction, though. Unfortunately. I’ve coem to the point of being a little skeptical of anything that might clear the path for a journmalist to do his/her job in the public interest, the way it should be done.


    June 23, 2006 at 5:08 pm

  2. Pa.
    Just thank the Lord you don’t live in Pennsylvania where documents aren’t considered public until a town council or board of county commissioners votes on them.
    In their draft stages, comprehensive plans that determine future development in town and consultants’ reports paid for with taxpayers’ money don’t have to be given out to anyone but the government officials.
    Releasing them might encourage too much damaging speculation by the public, the bureaucrats say.


    June 24, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    • Re: Pa.
      “Damaging speculation,” of course, refers to their political futures …
      Hi, Pete. Thanks for the comment.

      Dr. Denny

      June 24, 2006 at 4:03 pm

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