Reinvent Albany Supports Many Proposals in State Committee on Open Government’s (COOG)
Just Released 2019 Report
Reinvent Albany, the New York Chapter of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), published today a response to the NYS Committee on Open Government’s (COOG) 2019 annual report. COOG’s report – which is public but not yet on its website – provides data on its educational efforts, notes changes to the law and major court decisions from last year, and puts forth its legislative agenda. We appreciate COOG staff publishing the report on time since the Executive Director position at COOG has been vacant since late June 2019.
Reinvent Albany backs many of the legislative proposals supported by COOG in its report. In its 2019 report, COOG reiterated 9 previous legislative recommendations but did not take any new positions. Two of the bills COOG and Reinvent Albany support have passed the legislature and await the Governor’s signature or veto.
Below are Reinvent Albany’s positions on a few proposals highlighted by COOG. Our full response to the annual report is here.
Reinvent Albany has long supported proactive disclosure of records, championing the Governor’s Open Data Executive Order No. 95, that established a portal placing agency data online. Reinvent Albany has been actively working on improving open data and FOIL compliance at the MTA, releasing a review of MTA FOIL performance in 2018, and a follow-up report on MTA transparency in 2019. Ultimately, this secured a pledge from Chairman/CEO Pat Foye in April 2019 to “overhaul” FOIL and open data processes at the agency.
The COOG report references S1630-B(Skoufis)/A121-A(Buchwald), which requires agencies and the legislature, as able, to place records subject to FOIL on their websites if the records are of substantial interest to the public. We indicated to the bill sponsors last session we would support the bill if criteria are provided for the proactive disclosure of records like the most frequently requested FOIL records or datasets.
Government Created Entities Should Be Subject to FOIL
COOG supports FOIL applying to entities that are created by or affiliated with government, as does Reinvent Albany. However, we oppose COOG’s proposed legislation that only applies FOIL to entities that have a majority of appointees chosen or designated by state or local government officials. We believe this standard does not cover enough government-affiliated entities, and believe a number of factors should be considered in determining whether an entity, in its totality, is carrying out a government purpose. We have provided language to that effect to the central staff in the legislature.
Repeal Civil Rights Law 50-a
We support the Bar Associations, civil rights and criminal justice groups in their efforts to repeal 50-a, which protects police officers’ personnel records, including disciplinary records, from public scrutiny. In short, police officers are granted enormous responsibility and power in our society, and the public must have confidence in and visibility into the disciplinary system to ensure individual officers are not abusing that power.
Bring JCOPE within the coverage of FOIL and the Open Meetings Law (OML)
Reinvent Albany agrees with COOG and Governor Cuomo that JCOPE should follow FOIL and the OML, and that exceptions to the law require the necessary flexibility for the ethics body to protect the rights of the accused and investigative techniques. Municipal ethics bodies follow both laws.