NEW JRESEY – Senator Joe Pennacchio said it’s time to force Governor Phil Murphy to be more transparent about his flawed pandemic response by removing emergency powers he has used to block access to public records.
“Governor Murphy has hidden behind expanded OPRA exemptions provided by New Jersey’s public health emergency laws to deny or greatly restrict access to important public records during the pandemic,” Pennacchio (R-26) said. “It’s time to remove the emergency powers he has used to stonewall legislators and journalists who have been trying to understand what went wrong with New Jersey’s pandemic response.”
The Murphy administration has repeatedly relied on sections of the state’s Health Powers Act to deny Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for information about pandemic response efforts.
Currently, correspondence, records, reports and medical information filed pursuant to the Act are not considered public records subject to OPRA and they cannot be reviewed.
While the end of the public health emergency should eliminate those exemptions going forward, Pennacchio said legislation (A-5777) being advanced by the Democratic legislative majorities would allow Governor Murphy to end the public health emergency next month while keeping his emergency powers until 2022.
“We’re deeply concerned that Democrats are advancing legislation that purports to end the public health emergency without actually restricting the governor’s emergency powers,” Pennacchio said. “It appears their bill will allow the governor to keep hiding the truth as he has for the past 14 months. That’s absolutely outrageous.”
Given the lack of transparency demonstrated by the Murphy administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennacchio said it’s clear the law needs to be updated to prevent a recurrence in future emergencies.
He also said changes need to be made to ensure that important documents and records creating during the pandemic are finally made public. Under current law, they can stay hidden away forever, even after the current public health emergency has ended.
To address those concerns, Pennacchio sponsors S-2751, which would lift restrictions on access to public and government records during declared emergencies.
Under his bill, any correspondence, records, and reports filed pursuant to the Emergency Health Powers Act during the pandemic will be subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act.
“We had 10,000 people die in our nursing and veterans home because of Governor Murphy’s bad decisions, but we couldn’t get important information from the administration to help guide policy changes that could have saved lives,” Pennacchio said. “That shouldn’t have happened during the coronavirus pandemic and it should never happen again.”
Pennacchio’s legislation was approved by the New Jersey Senate on September 24, 2020. It is currently pending consideration by the General Assembly.