The New York State Committee on Open Government’s 2014 annual report is out, and is aptly called More to Be Done. The COOG is a government advisory panel mostly appointed by the governor, and directed by a full-time state employee, Robert Freeman. Freeman’s report includes numerous excellent recommendations, including two which we think are particularly important.
One major reform would require the government to pay attorney’s fees in certain cases when the member of the public wins a FOIL lawsuit – which seems to the be the overwhelming majority of the time. Currently, judges rarely award attorney’s fees, and the public is left with costly bills, even when agencies have flagrantly violated the Freedom of Information Law. As a result, most FOIL cases are never appealed and only journalists, businesses, and a handful of big advocacy groups can afford to appeal FOIL cases to a successful conclusion.
Freeman’s other major procedural reform is to require agencies to finalize their response to appeals within two months, instead of the current nine months.
List of FOIL Reforms Called for By Committee on Open Government
- Repeal §50-a of the Civil Rights Law and Eliminate the FOIL Loophole for Police Records
- The Governors of New York and New Jersey Should Sign Legislation to Make the Port
- Authority Subject to Access Laws
- Awards of Attorney’s Fees Should Be Mandatory in Certain Circumstances
- FOIL Should Be Amended to Expedite Appeals
- Proactive Disclosure Should Be Codified
- FOIL Should Be Amended to Create a Presumption of Access to Records of the State Legislature
- Commercial Enterprises Should Be Required to Renew Requests that Records be Kept Confidential
- Once Disclosed to Public Employee Unions, Tentative Collective Bargaining Agreements Should Be Accessible
- 911 Records Should Be Disclosed or Withheld Pursuant to FOIL
- Civil Rights Law §50-b Should Be Amended to Clarify that Privacy of Victims of Sex Offenses, Not that of Defendants, is Protected
- The Reasonable Use of Cameras Should Be Authorized in Courtrooms