Friday, August 15, 2014
New Jersey OPRA Amendment Benefits Crime Victims
For immediate release
A bill amending New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to recognize the special needs of crime victims was signed into law on July 30th. A1676 provides that a crime victim can obtain his or her own records at no cost and that the victim’s request for those records is not public information.
While there is currently no charge under OPRA for electronic delivery of records, a fee applies to paper copies. Under the revised law, fees would be waived for crime victims requesting their own records.
The bill has numerous sponsors and co-sponsors including Senator Loretta Weinberg, who has been a champion for OPRA reform.
The new law was written and shepherded by Unchained at Last, a non-profit organization devoted to helping victims of arranged marriage and domestic violence. Fraidy Reiss, the organization’s founder and president, points out that it is necessary to prove a pattern of abuse when seeking a final restraining order from a judge and that one of the best ways to do that is to request copies of the incident reports and prior restraining orders, for which cost could present a barrier to obtaining the records. Further, exempting such requests from the public domain allows for the privacy and safety of the requestor.
Reiss received the backing of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG), which assisted with the draft of the law. NJFOG is the only non-profit in the state devoted exclusively to improving New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act and educating the public about these laws.
While acknowledging that what is now a public record will become non-public under the new law – the crime victim’s document request itself – NJFOG president Walter Luers stated, “The OPRA amendment, in our view, will not diminish access to public records but will instead enhance access for crime victims.”
The new provisions take effect on November 1, 2014.