NJ bill would limit electronic meetings of officials

A bill to limit emails and phone calls among elected New Jersey officials outside public meetings has been resurrected after an updated proposal was defeated, reports the Union-Leader. House Bill 377 looks pretty much like the old bill that was originally voted down.

A bill to limit emails and phone calls among elected New Jersey officials outside public meetings has been resurrected after an updated proposal was defeated, reports the Union-Leader.

House Bill 377 looks pretty much like the old bill that was originally voted down. It classifies as a public record any email that reaches a majority of a government board. It states that meetings can be conducted electronically instead of in a town hall or other physical location, as long as the public is notified ahead of time and can participate.

The new law is intended to simply update the current law, and is meant to give or deny public access to government meetings and records.

Critics worry that, if passed, the law will make it easier for official business to be be conducted out of view of public scrutiny.

"There is a real balance ... of practicality versus public information," said Rep. Maureen Mooney, a Republican who chaired a House subcommittee that worked with a legislative commission on the update. "And that's a difficult balance to achieve."

Although the House Judiciary Committee supported an amendment that would have barred a majority of a government board from discussing official business outside public meetings, it died in the House after it was decided that decisions should be made at public meetings, but the ability to exchange information ahead of time is essential to intelligent debate.

"There's a tremendous amount of information that we need to deal with," he said. "We can't do that one night a week. If now the suggestion is boards of selectmen need to meet three nights a week, no one is going to run for board of selectmen."

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