Legislation sponsored by New Jersey State Senators Joe Pennacchio and Michael Testa that would remove limits on access to public and government records under the Emergency Health Powers Act was approved today by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.
“The limitations in the Act help obscure government transparency during crises like the current coronavirus pandemic,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “The Act was never intended to conceal data and decisions impacting public health and fiscal stability from public and legislative scrutiny.”
The Murphy Administration has relied on sections of the Health Powers Act, enacted in 2005, to deny Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for information about preparations and decisions relating to the virus outbreak.
“These restrictions are interfering with access to details about the State’s mistake-marred response to COVID-19 that has cost many thousands of lives and continues wreak havoc on the state economy,” Pennacchio said. “To better understand what led to the missteps, and how to avoid them in the future, it’s necessary to have unobstructed access to correspondence, records and reports that have remained hidden.”
Currently, correspondence, records, reports and medical information filed pursuant to the Act are not considered public records subject to the OPRA. They cannot be accessed.
Under the bill (S-2751/S-2575) advanced today, any item pertaining to the Emergency Health Powers Act that is accessible under OPRA may be obtained under current procedures.
“The effects of the State’s COVID preparation and managements are well established,” said Senator Testa (R-1). “Now it is vital to lift the curtain of secrecy and provide necessary insight into the Administration’s decision-making and operation. This bill will shine a light on the communication and cooperation between departments and agencies in the state, and the functionality of the chain of command.”