Right now, thanks to the state’s Freedom of Information Laws, everyday citizens can request to see most of the documents produced by state agencies. But because of a double standard in New York’s FOIL statutes, the same is not true of documents produced by the Legislature. This double standard is standing in the way of efforts to improve transparency and openness in state government.
That is why late last month I proposed a bill that would open up the state Legislature to the same Freedom of Information Laws that apply to other state agencies.
Under the current laws, any documents requested by members of the public from state agencies are presumed public unless those documents fall into specific exemptions, like personnel matters. For the Legislature, it is reversed. The law presumes that Legislative documents are not subject to Freedom of Information Laws, specifically listing only those documents that are public information.
There is no reason that we have this double standard, whereby agencies must comply with Freedom of Information requests when the Senate and Assembly are not so required. More than any other state employees, Legislators are representatives of the public and our actions should be open to the public.
The bill I have introduced, and many of my colleagues have signed onto as cosponsors, would lift the veil of secrecy shrouding many legislative activities and bring the public into the closed conference rooms of Albany.
Open and transparent government is the first step towards better government. The current Freedom of Information Laws give the public important access to the inner workings of state agencies. Now it is time to make those same laws apply to the people’s representatives in Albany.