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Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Weinberg signals willingness to reexamine OPRA legislative exemption

Sweeney: ‘We’re not going to change it’

By Nikita Biryukov, January 09 2020 7:07 pm

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg signaled a willingness to reexamine the exemptions provided to the legislature under the Open Public Records Act if her OPRA reform bill moved through the legislature.

“I would support reviewing that if all the municipalities wanted to give up their deliberative and consultive [exemption], which they use quite liberally, along with the governor’s office,” Weinberg said.

Legislators are exempt from divulging any documents or communications created in the process of their official duties. That provision means emails, texts and other messages between lawmakers, lobbyists and party officials are shielded from the public.

Communications between legislators and their constituents are also exempted from disclosure.

Currently, Weinberg is seeking a reform bill meant primarily to narrow the definition of a broad exemption often used by local and state government to shield from disclosure.

Weinberg’s bill, S107, would give a stricter definition to the advisory, consultive and deliberative material exempted under OPRA, among a slew of other policy changes than includes explicitly bringing electronic records under OPRA’s purview.

She said the legislative exemption, which is unchanged by her bill, should not be the focus.

“I think that this bill has so many good things that that should not overshadow it,” Weinberg said. “And I don’t think that should be the major discussion.”

In either case, the legislative exemption is unlikely to be changed.

Senate President Steve Sweeney previously said he would oppose reforming the legislative exemption, and he repeated that opposition when told about Weinberg’s willingness to explore the issue.

“We’re not going to change it,” he said. “I’m just being up front.”

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