By tonight at midnight, Governor Cuomo will either have signed or vetoed two bills which strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Law. The governor will make his decision at the same time a jury is deciding corruption charges against former senate leader Dean Skelos, and just weeks after another jury convicted Sheldon Silver. The two bills before the governor will help make state and local government more transparent and accountable.
Both bills were originally proposed by the state’s Committee on Open Government,are narrowly focused, have a clear intent, and will be easy for the state to implement. Both passed the legislature unanimously, and both were endorsed by more than a dozen newspaper editorials and numerous civic groups.
These bills are a step in the right direction and they present the governor with a clear choice between being part of the problem in Albany or part of the solution.
Summary of FOIL Bills
A.114 (Buchwald Ranzenhofer) reduces the time agencies have to appeal a judge’s decision granting public access to public records to two months from nine months.
A.1438B (Paulin/ Gallivan) requires judges to award attorney’s fees when a member of the public “substantially” prevails in a Freedom of Information lawsuit. Numerous states already have laws in place to awards attorney’s fees including:
Colorado: fees “shall be awarded” to anyone who wins FOIL lawsuit.
California: court “shall award costs and fees” – court can even award 1.25x the plaintiffs attorneys fees to attorneys for taking FOIL litigation on contingency.
Florida: “court shall assess” costs and fees if agency unlawfully refused request.
Illinois: fees “shall be awarded” to anyone who wins FOIL lawsuit.
New Jersey: fees “shall be awarded” to anyone who prevails.