ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Assembly passed legislation Thursday to increase transparency in an effort to strengthen the Freedom of Information Law.
Freedom of Information Law, also known as FOIL, allows the public to request government documents. It’s something that journalists at NEWS10 ABC do all time. And it’s what organizations such as the Empire Center did to obtain New York State nursing home data during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In theory, it provides for a lot of transparency, but in practice, the state and many of its agencies drag out requests for many months, and really the only way you can force the law is by going through the expense of litigation and it’s also time consuming,” explained Bill Hammond, Empire Center Senior Fellow for Health Policy.
Thursday, the Assembly passed a series of four bills, called the Sunshine Package, in an effort to enhance transparency and bring more light to information.
“I think it’s clear that now, more than ever, we need transparency in our government. I think that the public certainly has a right to know what’s going on in government,” stated Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.
One of the bills passed clarifies that for FOIL requests involving government actions, records cannot be withheld from the public solely because they involve an investigation or criminal proceedings. If a law enforcement exemption is used to deny a FOIL request, only a presiding judge can decide whether or not to release the information.
Another bill sponsored by Assemblyman John McDonald would disclose names and residences of an LLC in lease agreements where New York State is the tenant.
“I’ve always felt, and this this the theme behind Sunshine Week, is to have greater disclosure as to who those individuals are doing business with the state,” said Assemblyman McDonald.
When it comes to the Senate, Senator Jim Tedisco is sponsoring a bill relating to transparency. This stemming from nursing home COVID-19 death data not being immediately disclosed to New Yorkers.
“It would not be a violation anymore, it would be a criminal act— it would be a class B felony. We can never let 15,000 individuals die and have a governor lie about it until we had to wait six months, FOIL, not be given the information, and then finally sue and get it to find out what the real tragedy was,” said Senator Tedisco.
The New York State Budget is due April 1 and is expected to be on time.