Changes to FOIL from S7734 Do Not Reduce Police Transparency Won Via Repeal of 50-a


Reinvent Albany believes S7734 (a chapter amendment for Senate bill S6017) somewhat increases public access to government records and does not reduce access to police records won through the repeal of section 50-a of Civil Rights Law and the creation of a new section of Freedom of Information Law. The whole point of the original bill, S6017, is to require government agencies to explain exactly why they will not disclose records requested through a Freedom of Information Request. The new law narrows the excessively broad and much abused “law enforcement exemption” for public records, which is used by government agencies as a catch-all excuse for not releasing public records.

Our understanding is that the law now requires the police (or investigating agency) to confirm that the release of records will interfere with an ongoing investigation if a separate agency cites the law enforcement exemption as the basis for denying the request. Prior to the new law, there was nothing in statute that required investigating agencies to provide such a confirmation. As we noted in our letter to the Governor last year, public agencies have cited the “law enforcement exemption” as a way of thwarting FOIL requests and avoiding public transparency, so we are very sensitive to this concern.

We believe it is completely incorrect to interpret S7734 as reducing transparency or police accountability. Reinvent Albany has worked for years to strengthen New York’s FOIL. We have passed crucial transparency legislation, and we were proud to work closely with the groups who won the repeal of 50-a.  It’s always possible a new law does things inadvertently, but we are totally convinced this law is what it says it is:

“Legislation … to clarify certain provisions of FOIL and other disclosure laws to make sure that people are not wrongfully denied access to public records.”