Public Records Act in Peril in New Jersey

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Part of what allows us to remain a free people has to do with keeping our government in check. Something that I frequently use – and use to disinfect via “sunlight” – is New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. Through OPRA requests citizens and journalists are able to get vital information from the government of New Jersey that might not be advertised or out in the open. OPRA requests are little chain checks that we can use to ensure that whatever is happening in the underbelly of the Garden State is not getting too out of control. Recently the legislature voted to eviscerate the OPRA law as we know it and that’s a bad thing.

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A good pile of recent coverage that I’ve been pumping out here at Bearing Arms was possible because of OPRA requests. Some of my earlier work at AmmoLand, when I got a byline in 2020, revolved around OPRA-acquired documents.

My recent coverage on how Black permit to carry applicants are being denied more than double whites via a subjective standard was aided by the OPRA process. Providing coverage on how there have been excessive delays in carry permit issuance in the Garden State was facilitated by OPRA requests. And how Moms Demand Action was behind the gun store closures in New Jersey during the pandemic was from OPRA acquired documentation.

I also have a pocketful of more outstanding OPRAs that I’m looking forward to diving into. This is an important tool for journalists. No wonder the power brokers in New Jersey want to see the process gutted.

My friends and colleagues over at News2A.com did some great work covering the recent vote in the legislature. Shockingly, the measure passed.

New Jersey continues to carry the torch as one of the most corrupt states in the union. With help from three Republican votes in the Senate and seven in the Assembly, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature, on May 13th, passed a bill that would effectively neuter the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and eviscerate transparency into New Jersey governmental functions, if signed into law by Governor Murphy.

NJ S2930/A4045, passed in the Senate with a 21-10 vote, and in the Assembly with a 42-27 vote, was sold by Democrats as a way to save taxpayer money; however, the bill makes it harder to request public records already paid for by taxpayers and even includes possible penalties for doing so.

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The entire drama that surrounds this bill passage is just beyond fishy and indeed, has the stench of 1984, as News2A quips in the title of their piece, “New Jersey Goes Full 1984, Eviscerating Transparency.

The bill was sponsored and championed by one Joe Danielsen. Danielsen is the same jack wagon who introduced New Jersey’s so-called “Bruen response” bill, aka the “Carry Killer.” Danielsen, not content to see the destruction of just the Second Amendment, had to foray into hacking away at the First Amendment too.

Joe Danielsen, a Democrat who has been notoriously anti-civil liberties, made the following unbelievable statement: “This is a good bill that continues to protect transparency, continues to protect citizens rights and continues to protect the taxpayers’ resources and money.” 

Something that piqued my interest quite a bit is something that was stated. The News2A team noted, “In a forthcoming article we will expose how Danielsen’s private company, and those of other legislators, stand to financially benefit from this bill, if signed into law.” So if there’s any time to follow these guys, now is it, so be sure to like and subscribe. I’m actually waiting with bated breath to hear about what Danielsen has going on.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant….

Even the proceedings were suspect, as Politico reported: “Before the vote, the cameras that normally broadcast the Senate’s proceedings did not turn back on in time after the Senate’s pause to catch the vote, leaving the public outside of the Senate chambers with no way to observe the vote.”

Senator Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat, voted against the bill. “My office has received hundreds of emails and phone calls from constituents, 100 percent opposed to the legislation, to the point that the staff couldn’t handle the volume of calls and let them go to voicemail,” said Zwicker.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, a Republican, made clear his opposition: “Every yes vote that you’re going to get today is either threatened to be that way or bought to be that way, and it’s disgusting, Mr. Speaker,” Bergen said, later adding that “If you vote for this bill today… you are the exact person that people don’t trust.” 

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Isn’t that just peachy. Soprano-style tactics in the Soprano state? Intimidation and the lack of transparency. Kinda why we need the OPRA process in our lives.

A full list of what the bill does is in the News2A article, but some of the provisions will shift fees over to applicants. Most bizarre, in my opinion, one that allows “government agencies to get protective court orders to limit the number of requests a person can make by citing an ‘intent to substantially impair’ government operations.” How long will it take before the attorney general’s office files one of those against pesky journalists like myself?

This is just a travesty and I’m shocked that so many people got behind it. I’m disgusted. Considering the topic, I have no doubt that Governor Phil Murphy will sign it. If I had to guess, he probably was the big catalyst behind the bill, and leaned on his jabroni Danielsen to do his dirty work. In any case, this is appalling and an assault on the work that I do.

Governor Phil Murphy’s office can be reached at: https://www.nj.gov/governor/contact/ 

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