Making open records a bit more open


New York is not exactly known for transparency when it comes to public records. But Assemblywoman Amy Paulin hopes to take the first steps to change that.

Paulin, who represents the greater Scarsdale and Pelham Manor communities in Westchester County, introduced a pair of bills she says removes a loophole that kept many records from being available, and potentially reduced the cost to obtain others.

A.1228 removes the phrase “to the extent practicable” from New York open records laws — that applied to when government agencies would have to supply any documents discussed at upcoming meetings.

The vague phrasing allowed too many agencies to simply not supply the records when asked, according to an Assembly staff analysis of the bill. A survey by the New York Coalition for Open Government found that of 41 local governments observed, 15 percent did not post meeting documents.

“COVID-19 has made it apparent that there is technology readily available for agencies to use in an effort to be more transparent,” according to the staff analysis. “Meetings are only taking place virtually, and individuals are at an immense disadvantage because there is no in-person opportunity to request a hard copy of any documents at the meeting. Therefore, it is even more important that agencies utilize the technology available to post documents online where the public can effectively access them.”

Another bill Paulin has introduced is A.4677 which is intended to remove a government agency’s ability to charge for a document more than once.

Under the current law, any gency that fulfills a public records request and creates an electronic copy can charge a nominal fee for those efforts. But if someone else were to request the same document, the agency would be allowed to bill that person the same fee, even though no one had to do any additional work.

Paulin’s bill, if signed into law, would endeavor to limit such billing to just one time only.

Both Assembly bills already have companions in the upper chamber, both sponsored by Long Island state Sen. Anna Kaplan.


Universal health care back on the table

Now that there’s a super-majority of Democrats in both Albany chambers, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera has reintroduced the New York Health Act, declaring that there is no better time than now to implement universal health care in the state.

“What the COVID-19 public health crisis has made abundantly clear is that the New York Health Act must be considered as an integral component of our state’s post-pandemic recovery,” Rivera said, in a release. “As we reintroduce this bill, I am incredibly proud that the majority of members in both the Assembly and the senate co-sponsor and support this legislation. This is a testament to the willingness of New Yorkers to fundamentally change the way health care is delivered in our state, which will help us attain health equity, and address the deep health disparities further unearthed by this crisis.”

The bills have been introduced as S.5474 And A.6058, with the Assembly version sponsored by Richard Gottfried.

The legislation, if passed into law, would put New York on the map as the first state to move to a single-payer health care system. It has stalled over the years, first from a Republican-controlled senate, and later because of President Trump.

But with Democrats firmly in control of both chambers, and Joe Biden in the White House, supporters feel more confident than ever this can become law.

“New York state should be a model for universal health care for the rest of the nation,” Judy Fletcher of NYCD-16 Indivisible said, in a release. “With a Democratic supermajority in our state legislature, and a Democratic federal government to grant the needed Medicaid waiver, now is the time to pass the New York Health Act.”