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FOIL should apply to lawmakers, too

March 19, 2015
Editorial , Lake Placid News

One way New York state legislators could increase the public's confidence in the chambers in the wake of several ethics scandals is by increasing the number of documents available through the Freedom of Information Law.

Much information about New York's legislative bodies is already available, including bills, the memoranda written by those who introduce bills, formal opinions, final reports of legislative committees and commissions and similar documents. Those documents are regularly posted to state websites for anyone to see. Having such documents available is a good first step, but not even close to the openness practiced by some other state agencies that regularly have correspondence and other information about the agency available through FOIL - a schism Robert Freeman, chair of the state Committee on Open Government, recommends be closed by changing FOIL.

Freeman warns against opening personal communications between constituents and legislators to public scrutiny. Such correspondence should remain private. But, given the ethics scandals that have rocked the legislature, perhaps communications between legislators and those who write on behalf of corporate or business interests should be subject to disclosure.

There is, after all, nothing personal about them, as Freeman notes in his annual report to the governor and legislature. Where FOIL imposes distinct requirements on state agencies, the state legislature should be included. And Section 88 of FOIL, which requires each house to make available for public inspection and copying certain records that are unique to the state Legislature, should be maintained.

Freeman's changes should be proposed and accepted by the legislature. We aren't optimistic, however. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Capital New York recently that he is not in favor of opening the chamber up to FOIL disclosure.

One wouldn't think complying with such a directive would be a problem given the combined size of the legislature's staff and the assumed ease of posting documents that should soon be disseminated electronically to legislators. One would hope, too, that being required to make more information available to the public would keep legislators honest in their dealings and shine a light on the decisions legislators are making. Heastie should drop his opposition to this heightened disclosure and they should be approved by the Legislature.



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