March started with a defeat and ended with a big win for Robbinsville Township in its quest to change New Jersey’s privacy laws.
On March 23, the state Assembly voted, 73-0, to pass Bill A-4532, legislation introduced by state Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo and supported by Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried. The bill was inspired by attempts of vendors to use public records in Robbinsville for solicitation, and is aimed at protecting personal information such as name, address, phone number and e-mail on personal government records. The law would be limited to OPRA requests related to pet or home alarm system permits, licenses or registrations. The legislation now moves on to the state Senate for further action. The Senate is in recess until May.
Earlier in March, Mercer County Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson handed a defeat to Robbinsville Township when Jacobson ruled March 3 that residents who registered for dog licenses do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy under OPRA. She ordered the release of personal information contained in the dog license applications to those who request it.
In other words, until a law is fully passed, the ruling means municipal governments must hand over, when requested, the name and contact information of anyone who has registered a pet, home alarm or other item with the township.
According to a township press release, approximately 66 percent of surveyed Robbinsville residents did not wish to have their personal information released in such a way. Jacobson denied a request by Robbinsville’s lawyers to only release the information of respondents who responded “yes” to the township’s survey.
In the case, Robbinsville Township was defending against charges by Nick D’Alessandro of Bozzi Builders in Mount Holly. In December 2016, D’Alessandro requested the names and contact information of Robbinsville residents who had applied for dog licenses with the township. D’Alessandro was seeking to market an invisible fence company to current dog owners in Robbinsville and elsewhere. Robbinsville Township Municipal Clerk Michele Seigfried denied D’Alessandro access to the information, who then filed charges against the township government.
The Robbinsville Township Council later voted, 4-0, against settling with D’Alessandro, sending the matter to court.
While the matter was in court, township officials also began working with members of the state legislature to change OPRA. On Jan. 23, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo introduced Bill A-4532, and DeAngelo and Fried testified in favor of the bill Feb. 13. A-4532 emerged unanimously out of committee later that day. The bill then was sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Turner a few weeks later and introduced as Senate Bill S3049. State Sen. Linda Greenstein jumped on board as a co-sponsor later in March.
Should S3049 become law, Jacobson will allow Robbinsville Township attorneys to file a “motion for reconsideration” of the case. Some groups, including the New Jersey Press Association, have opposed the bills due to concerns that the way the bills were worded would weaken OPRA and allow broader application than intended. NJPA has worked with DeAngelo to fix areas of concern, NJPA executive director George White said.