I wanted to use the space this month in part to thank District 14 Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo and his staff for working diligently to craft and then introduce Assembly Bill A-4532, which would ensure that the personal information of residents such as names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails would not be subject to Open Public Records Act requests relative to pet or home alarm system permits, licenses or registrations.
That final part of that sentence is a very important component of the bill for all of those opposed to its passage to keep in mind.
The bill solely deals with one scenario, and once scenario only, by creating a new category of “personal government records” that are explicitly defined in the bill as “pet or home alarm system, permit or registration.” Contrary to some reports, the intent of the bill is not to open the floodgates for the weakening of OPRA.
DeAngelo and I testified in favor of the bill in committee on Feb. 13 at the State House. The committee unanimously released the bill, and it will now go before the full General Assembly if posted for a vote by the assembly speaker.
The idea that businesses would seek to use public, personal information to make money is not in the spirit of OPRA. There are many legitimate and necessary purposes of the OPRA statute. Targeting the personal information of residents for marketing purposes is not one of them.
The New Jersey Press Association opposes the bill, but the NJPA, along with, for example, any environmental groups looking to use OPRA as a shield, are not in the crosshairs of A-4532. The bill does not seek to address any other changes to other forms of local, county or state information sought via an OPRA request.
Local governments, such as the Robbinsville Township Council back in December 2016, have taken steps to protect their residents’ personal information by refusing to comply with the OPRA request of the invisible fence company seeking to obtain personal information. This action has resulted in lawsuits, as well as legal fees associated with the case.
The bill also would protect local governments from being required to pay a petitioner’s attorney fees, and prevents unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars.
Amendments to A-4532 in regards to legal fees have been made since its initial introduction. It has always been the bill’s intent that legal fees that could be awarded would be curtailed solely in litigation pertaining to OPRA requests regarding these pet or home alarm system permits, licenses or registrations. In any other cases—such as police reports, state regulations or executive actions—there would be no changes effectuated by this legislation. Previously, the bill barred the award of an attorney’s fee in any OPRA Amendments to A-4532 proceeding if the records custodian acted reasonably and exercised good faith and due diligence.
If signed into law, the measure would take effect immediately.
Dave Fried is Mayor of Robbinsville. Click here to read his other Robbinsville Advance columns.