Media Law Case of the Week

New York state’s Open Meetings Law will get a boost if Gov. David Paterson signs an amendment to strengthen it.

The Buffalo News editorial board has urged him to do. The News writes:

The legislation includes three components. One closes an escape hatch that some public bodies have used to avoid discussing the public’s business in public. The other gives judges greater leeway in responding to violations of the Open Meetings Law, allowing them to address those transgressions without unduly harming the interests of innocent parties. Both are important revisions to what already is, by and large, a strong state law.

Most journalists are familiar with the “escape hatch” the News mentions. Some government bodies think they can circumvent the Open Meetings Law by having debates on issues behind closed doors but voting in public. This allows the public to know how their representatives have voted, but they have no sense of the debate and information provided behind closed doors.  That’s not exactly the Open Meetings Law’s purpose.

With the amendment, judges would be able to punish government bodies who do this with a fine and/or other measures.

Read the amendment for yourself — and see who voted to support it — here.

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