Amended OPMA Legislation Reintroduced

Scarinci HollenbeckChanges could be in store for New Jersey’s open government laws in 2013. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, recently reintroduced amendments to New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

As we previously discussed on this New Jersey Government & Law Blog, Weinberg’s previous effort to amend the law stalled in December just short of a final Senate vote. In addition to creating greater transparency and public access, the amendments are intended to reflect changes in the way public officials communicate with each other and their constituents.

While SB-2511 largely tracks the prior bill, there are several changes worth highlighting. Below is a brief summary, curtsey of the New Jersey League of Municipalities:

  • The definition of subcommittee is revised. It now states: “any subordinate committee of a public body, except the Legislature, regardless of label, that is formally created by that body, comprised of two or more members, but less than a quorum, of the public body, and recognized by the public body as a subcommittee thereof.”
  • The bill no longer requires a subcommittee to prepare minutes. Rather, it must prepare a report of its meetings, which includes the number of meetings, names of members of the committee and a concise statement of the matters discussed. The reports would be available for public access in the same manner as minutes of a meeting of the public body.
  • Minutes must be made available to the public as soon as possible but no later than 60 days or the second meeting of the public body after the meeting for which the minutes were prepared, whichever is later.
    • The new bill removes the ability of the public body to determine a reasonable length of time for public comment.  However, such comment period may be limited solely to items listed on the agenda so long as an additional public comment period is set aside at the meeting at which time a member of the public may discuss any issue he or she feels may be of concern to and within the authority of the public body.
    • Each speaker is permitted at least 3 minutes during public comment.  The public body may limit the amount of time a member of the public can speak in excess of 3 minutes.
    • If an individual is found in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act they must pay the fine from their personal funds. Under no circumstances shall public funds be used to pay a fine or reimburse a person who has paid, or will pay, a fine for violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

For more information about how the proposed changes may impact your municipality’s operations, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Public Law Group.

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