TRENTON - Two Republican lawmakers want to pull back the curtain on the state's public records law by removing some provisions that exempt legislators.
Assemblyman John Amodeo and Assemblyman-elect Chris Brown, both of Atlantic County, plan to introduce in January a bill to allow the decade-old Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to apply to communications between legislators and other governmental agencies.
"Legislators should be as open and transparent as every other public official in New Jersey," said Amodeo. "Removing this exemption will provide assurance to the public that their elected officials are working for them, not special interests."
Under the law, any memos, notes or other documents created upon the request of a lawmaker are exempt. On top of that, anything lawmakers ask the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services - the Legislature's research arm - is considered privileged, though lawmakers can waive that privilege.
Communications between lawmakers and constituents also are exempt from the open records law, a provision inserted just before lawmakers passed the bill in 2002. At the time, lawmakers said the purpose of that exemption was to protect the privacy of constituents who may disclose personal information to their legislators.
Under the bill Amodeo and Brown plan to sponsor, that exemption would remain in place, said Greg Volpe, a spokesman for the Assembly Republicans.
Other states classify constituent communications into two groups: Those considered political - for instance, a constituent seeking help getting Social Security benefits - are not public records, but those considered legislative - such as an e-mail urging a lawmaker to support a bill - are.
Across the country, it is not unusual for lawmakers to exempt themselves, at least in part, from state public records laws. Legislators in at least 21 states have some exemptions, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. However, New Jersey's exemptions are broader than most.