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by Jay Gallagher

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The sun shines in - sort of

The sun was shining brightly outside the Capitol today, and beams of it even penetrated the cavernous Assembly chamber.

But in the back rooms where key decisions may or may not be getting made, there was only the traditional darkness.

In the middle of “sunshine week,’’ the Assembly passed a package of bills designed to strengthen parts of the state’s open-meetings and freedom-of-information laws. (They were passed in 1975. Thank you, Watergate. Thank you, Richard Nixon.) The package is scheduled to be approved by the Senate tomorrow.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in the package, but League legislative director Barbara Bartoletti said the bills “will help make government more transparent, and encourage more citizens to participate in government.’’

The bills would:
-- waive the ability of governments to claim copyright protections as reasons for denial of access in most cases;
-- require governments to hold meetings in rooms big enough to accommodate expected crowds;
-- cut the time state agencies can appeal judgments against them for freedom-of-information-law violations from nine months to 30 days;
-- authorize state agencies to waive fees related to reproductions of records.

While the Assembly met in public today to pass these bills, the real action, as has been the case for weeks, will be behind closed doors tonight, when members of the Democratic majority of both houses meet to talk about the budget. Lawmakers have less than two weeks before the deadline to adopt a new spending plan, and have yet to hold serious negotiating sessions in public.

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