In an effort to shed light on the operations of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, state lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would make it subject to both state’s open public records laws.
In New Jersey, bills have been introduced that would add materials made, maintained, kept on file or received in the course of official business by the Port Authority to the definition of a “government record” in the Open Public Records Act. They would also place the authority within OPRA’s definition of a “public agency.”
The New Jersey bills — S-2292, introduced Oct. 25, and A-3400, Oct. 18 — would take effect only if, and at the same time that, New York adopts a similar revision of its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
One of the sponsors, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, says identical legislation in both states would be needed to apply the changes. She is unaware of any action under way in New York.
New Jersey’s proposal comes in the wake of Dittrich v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, A-1289-11, in which the Appellate Division held the Port Authority — an interstate agency born of a congressionally approved compact — is exempt from OPRA.
Weinberg says that although the Dittrich ruling bolstered the need for such legislation, the goal of shedding more light on the agency — largely in response to controversial proposed toll increases — “has been a concern to us for a long time.”
Weinberg says the bill represents a renewed effort following a failed one. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act, which passed both houses last spring but was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in July, would have directed the Port Authority to hold more public meetings on toll hikes, publish reports and other documents, and make other changes.
In his veto, Christie said the legislation should be rewritten to apply the new strictures to other multijurisdictional and regional authorities, not just the Port Authority. He said enactment of the bill was “premature and may be counterproductive” because he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already had ordered the Port Authority to conduct an audit and made moves to improve efficiency.
Companion legislation had passed the New York State Senate but was never voted on in the Assembly, according to online records.
In an Oct. 4 New Jersey Senate session, bill supporters could not garner enough votes to override the veto.
The same day, the court issued Dittrich, an unpublished opinion but one that still made headlines. Plaintiff Vesselin Dittrich made several requests for documents related to his August 2010 arrest by Port Authority police at the Hoboken PATH station. Port Authority police denied many of the requests and billed Dittrich $3,891 for the arresting officer’s five-year record of summonses. Rather than appeal within the agency, he brought the issue to court.
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Bernadette DeCastro dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and Appellate Division Judges Marianne Espinosa and Michael Guadagno affirmed, holding OPRA inapplicable.
The appeals panel rejected Dittrich’s contentions that OPRA is complementary and parallel to FOIL, that the Port Authority consented to application of OPRA when it adopted a freedom-of-information policy meant to mirror each state’s statute or that the agency is subject to regulation under common law.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, is the only attorney sponsor of S-2292/A-3400. He could not be reached last week.