Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New law requires sharing of data at public meetings

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that requires state and local governments to post materials online before a meeting, or provide copies before or at the meeting when possible.
The law applies to records scheduled to be discussed during an open meeting, including proposed resolutions, laws, rules, policies and amendments.
The documents have to be posted online when possible if the agency's website is updated regularly and it uses a high-speed Internet connection.

There are some exceptions to making records available, such as documents that are submitted late or that would be too expensive or onerous to copy. An example would be a 1,000-page report.
The public body can charge a fee, which would be determined in the same manner as for a request under the Freedom of Information Law.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, Westchester County, said the measure is "one of the most significant bills expanding transparency in this state in a decade."
Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, sponsored the bill in his house.
The legislation passed in the Assembly before 2011. The Senate and Assembly reached an agreement on the bill last year and it passed both houses. The law takes effect 30 days from Tuesday.
Paulin said she developed the bill a few years ago based on her own experience of attending public meetings while serving as president for her county League of Women Voters chapter. She and others tried to follow along without the benefit of having documents that public officials had.
"There was no obligation on the part of those county board members at the time to provide them to us," she said.
Both the general public and public officials will see a benefit, according to Paulin.
"The elected officials at the time would have benefited from our input," she said.
The state Committee on Open Government's 2011 annual report recommended this change to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Public bodies should make records accessible to the public online in advance of meetings or by the distribution of copies of records before or at meetings, the report said.
"Over the years, the Committee received numerous comments and criticisms concerning the inability to effectively understand public discussions due to the lack of information relating to the topics considered," the report said.
The Committee on Open Government noted that more government agencies are placing records pertaining to their meetings online, before and after meetings.
The New York Public Interest Research Group praised the legislation, which the group said "will promote meaningful citizen engagement in public decisions and is a substantial improvement to the state's Open Meetings Law."
It will help open up policymaking throughout the state, NYPIRG said in a statement.
"Public participation is meaningful when members of the public -- whether at the state, city, county, town, village or community level -- can review proposals under consideration at the time they're being discussed," the statement said.

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